Industry News

Dark web drug market Evolution vanishes off the net, taking millions of dollars with it

Remember Silk Road? The infamous underground marketplace that made millons of dollars while its members bought and sold drugs and firearms was shut down in 2013, and its mastermind Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbricht facing prison for the rest of his life.

Well, nature abhors a vacuum.

So it’s no surprise to see others attempt to take over where the Silk Road left off.

As Wired reports, one of the sites – Evolution – that has attempted to take the place of the Silk Road has itself mysteriously vanished, and allegedly run off with members’ bitcoins worth more than $12 million.

Now, if Evolution had been taken down by law enforcement agencies we would expect to see a fairly blatant announcement that the site has been seized, festooned with the badges of the FBI and the Department of Justice.

But that hasn’t happened in Evolution’s case.

Instead, as Wired describes, the site stopped members from withdrawing Bitcoins over the weekend, blaming a technical issue. Within a couple of days, the site – which is only accessible via Tor – shut down completely much to the consternation of its users.

Over the past weekend, the massive anonymous market known as Evolution halted withdrawals of bitcoin from its website, telling users that it was dealing with technical difficulties. Then on Tuesday evening, both its market and user forum went offline, with no opportunity for drug buyers and sellers to pull out the funds they had stored in their Evolution accounts. The result has been a wave of panic that’s shaken the online black market economy as much as any of the law enforcement drug busts of the last two years.

The panic was intensified, as a Reddit user calling themselves NSWGreat – who claims to be a staff member at Evolution – posted that marketplace’s admins had escaped with the cash.

reddit

I am so sorry, but Verto and Kimble have f***ed us all. I have over $20,000 in escrow myself from sales.
I can’t f***ing believe it, absolute scum. I am giving this warning to you all as soon as I possibly could of.
Confronted Kimble and Verto about it, they confirmed it and they’re doing it right now..

Who could have possibly predicted that people running a criminal marketplace that dealt in firearms, stolen identities and illegal drugs might not be entirely trustworthy, eh?

Some sellers on the Evolution market claim to have lost over 200 Bitcoins (worth approximately $55,000) as a result of the unexpected closure.

Others are clearly more than a little angry:

TO VERTO/KIMBLE: What you have done is despicable. Didn’t think I was serious about our discussion? Okay. It’s nearly 9PM on the US West Coast. You’ve got 24 hours (and that is being generous) to make this right and re-open the market, and allow people access to their funds. Once that time passes – my crystal ball starts talking and unless you’ve changed identities and moved, you will be F***ED.

My guess is that the kind of people who trade on Evolution Market probably aren’t the sort of folks you want to upset.

Of course, it’s not yet confirmed that Evolution’s owners have stolen their users’ funds, but if they have the financial rewards could be considerable for them. Perhaps enough to buy themselves a new identity and a head start on any of the unsavoury types who might now be chasing them for revenge.

One thing we can be sure of – like Silk Road before it, the end of Evolution isn’t going to mean the end for underground markets dealing in illegal goods and services. Other criminals will see the vacuum left by Evolution’s apparent demise, and seek to exploit it with their own activities. The question is – can you trust them with your Bitcoins?

About the author

Graham CLULEY

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats.

Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security.

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  • “Who could have possibly predicted that people running a criminal marketplace that dealt in firearms, stolen identities and illegal drugs might not be entirely trustworthy, eh?”

    I thought the same thing. Yet I also think similar with bitcoins. Virtual economy. Well, if it works for them, I suppose. But to be honest, if you look at virtual economies with regulations (even if by policy makers, and even if only in games[1]), they don’t exactly do so well, do they? Then again, I suppose it is like the real world economy – it isn’t stable, never has been and never will be (much like the world in general). Maybe it isn’t so bad, in that way. Still, I do wonder why (but not really expecting or even wanting answers) does anyone think currency that isn’t considered legal tender (and more so internationally), is a good idea? Even if it is great, if you can’t use it everywhere, what is it but bartering (I suppose you could also argue this with different currencies, too)? Sure, it has its uses but the uses are limited. I wouldn’t suggest it is (maybe some of its uses are but not it by itself) counterfeit but yet it certainly has risks (then again, so does real, physical currency). Perhaps there is some merit to it (I certainly am not interested but I know very well that all good comes with bad and vice versa and in this case, it isn’t really bad or good but instead simply different). If others are willing to use it, I certainly won’t tell them not to – it isn’t any of my business and neither is it my problem (or gain, for that matter).

    [1] If you think about it, currency is part of the economy, so virtual currency might be likened to the economy of a virtual world (‘virtual economy’). Certainly a virtual world is a game of some sort (loosely defined, perhaps).