Obtaining reliable information about darknet markets (DNMs) is a constant struggle, given the propensity of news sites and forums to come and go. No sooner has one portal gained ascendancy than it’s been toppled by law enforcement or exited under mysterious circumstances. The recent disappearance of darknet forum Dread has left a gaping hole in the DNM community – and a host of unanswered questions.
Hugbunter Flicks the Dead Man’s Switch
Dread is dead. The darknet forum where buyers and sellers gathered to exchange links, rate vendors, and discuss opsec has been offline for almost a fortnight. The site didn’t hold cryptocurrency deposits or directly facilitate DNM transactions, but was nevertheless a crucial cog in the darknet economy. The site went offline 10 days ago, prompting speculation as to what may have happened to its pseudonymous admin, Hugbunter. DNM tracker site dark.fail currently displays a warning that reads:
Dread is offline, Hugbunter is missing. Assume Dread and its team are compromised. Rotate all passwords you may have used there immediately. Assume all unencrypted private messages you sent have been compromised. Re-evaluate your OPSEC.
Users of darknet markets should not be directly affected by Dread’s disappearance, unless they’ve used the same password to access DNMs or sent incriminating private messages on its forum that may now be in the hands of law enforcement or hackers. “HugBunter’s Deadman Has Been Switched” reads the front page of Dread, with the remainder of the site inaccessible.
A dead man’s switch is “designed to be activated or deactivated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.” It’s been used in the past by Julian Assange, for instance, as a means of guaranteeing that damaging information on adversaries will be released in the event of his arrest or death. Edward Snowden is also believed to have set one up.
Dread Is Dead But r/Darknet Lives On
Dread went down on September 20 for maintenance, with Hugbunter promising a “huge update to provide increased stability as the platform grows” including “a variety of bug fixes.” When the site failed to return online, Dread admin “Paris” signed a message to the site which reads: “HugBunter’s deadman has been switched. It has been three full days without any contact … All I can hope is he is alive and well. Not harmed, captured, or dead. However we must assume the worse in this case.”
Dread may never come back online. Paris has not heard from admin Hugbunter in days, activating a "deadman switch." Paris claims they will finally make good on Hugbunter's promise to open source the code. We'll see. This is a massive loss for the darknet. https://t.co/Cj3ifnl537
— dark.fail (@DarkDotFail) September 27, 2019
With Dread seemingly gone for good, Paris has recommended that DNM users congregate on one of the following forums:
Darknet Avengers: http://avengersdutyk3xf.onion
Envoy Forum: http://envoys5appps3bin.onion
The Hub Forum: http://thehub7xbw4dc5r2.onion
For clearnet users, there’s also sub-reddit r/Darknet which, as news.Bitcoin.com recently reported, is going strong with 65,000 users. Previous sub-reddits such as r/Darknetmarkets have been shut down in the past, however, as has DNM site Deepdotweb, highlighting the hazards of disseminating information on drugs which many nations still deem to be illegal.
The hypocrisy of countries criminalizing the same drugs their three-letter agencies traffick and use to entrap targets, while selling over-the-counter medicines that cause greater death and addiction, is well-documented. Cryptocurrency users are well aware of the double standard at play. It was the primary driver for many bitcoiners to shun the filthy fiat system in the first place in favor of sounder money.
While powerless to dictate the whims of governments and their censorship-crazy apparatchiks, cryptocurrency users draw solace from the fact that the war on drugs – like the war on all amorphous concepts – is going badly. 50 years of failed policies have shown that criminalization does nothing to diminish the public’s desire to decide what they put into their bodies. On the darknet, business is booming, with DNMs such as Point, Berlusconi, and Empire enabling thousands of users a day to obtain goods and services in exchange for cryptocurrencies such as BTC, BCH, ETH, and XMR. The feds sporadically succeed in downing the occasional site; DNM “Darkmarket” is the latest to go following a raid on a German “cyber bunker” involving 600 armed cops. Despite the loss of Dread and Darkmarket, however, DNMs aren’t just surviving – they’re thriving.
Deleted this Tweet yesterday for reasons. Cat is out of the bag now though.
The added Jabber screenshot comes from an entity who confirmed that darkmarket is unable to answer encrypted messages. pic.twitter.com/CTl4Uql6Ec
— Caleb (@5auth) September 30, 2019
What are your thoughts on Dread’s disappearance? Let us know in the comments section below.
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