Cyber criminals are fleeing the dark net following a series of police take downs and switching to chat channels to deal drugs, according to a new report.
Research by risk and security firm Digital Shadows has found that criminals are turning to decentralised markets and messaging networks to sell their wares.
The move follows international police operations last July which shut down two of the largest online black markets selling drugs, guns, and counterfeit documents.
AlphaBay, the largest criminal marketplace on the dark web, and Hansa, the third largest, could have generated more than £1bn in revenue while they were open, according to a “conservative estimate” by police.
Since they went down, no single market place has risen to the top to replace them, partially due to mistrust and fear, and partially the hidden financial costs associated with establishing a new market.
Online drug dealers are instead turning to messaging networks such as Telegram, which Digital Shadows said is “proving increasingly popular” with cyber criminals.
“Over the last six months, the Digital Shadows analyst teams have detected over 5,000 Telegram links shared across criminal forums and dark web sites, of which 1,667 were invite links to new groups,” the company stated.
The new groups covered a range of services around cyber crime, including allowing people to cash out on stolen data, purchasing credit card information, and fraudulently trading crypto currency.
Rick Holland, the chief information security officer at the firm, said: “Historically, when popular marketplaces disappear, another leader emerges.
“The effects of law enforcement action are therefore relatively short-lived, becoming a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ where cyber criminals are always one step ahead.”
However, this has not happened following the AlphaBay and Hansa shutdowns. Instead, the criminal organisatons “have dispersed to alternative platforms and techniques to transact online” Mr Holland added.
While alternative markets were attempted they mostly collapsed in the face of limited popularity and suspicions of law enforcement activity.
Others have moved to blockchain hosting to take advantage of the decentralisation, preventing law enforcement from capturing a single server from which they could identify the criminals.
Mr Holland concluded: “The FBI take down has (for now) made the dark web marketplace model less viable.
“The barriers to entry has shifted upwards; criminals are more likely to be deceived by each other.
“However, cybercrime is not going away. Instead criminals have turned to alternative ways of interacting online.”