It's been one year since the FBI shut down Silk Road, the granddaddy of darknet marketplaces, and arrested the alleged main Silk Road admin Ross William Ulbricht* (or, as he was known online, Dread Pirate Roberts). Silk Road users who navigated to the darknet site on October 2, 2013, found this instead:
For those who relied on the site to anonymously buy everything from pot to AK-47s, it was a bit like trying to log on to Amazon and finding it had shut down overnight. Panic ensued, Bitcoins disappeared into the ether, and users were suddenly forced to find a new place to anonymously shop online for blow or body armor.
There's no denying that Silk Road was an unseemly place. But it was also a centralized one. And in the year since the site's shuttering, the darknet market has fragmented as various new players have attempted to take Silk Road's place, making an already sketchy scene all the more shady. According to a directory of darknet markets on Reddit, more than a dozen are currently operating. And unsurprisingly for markets in which anonymity is vital and nearly every purchase is very much illegal, scams and outright theft have plagued many of the upstarts. In fact, the list of darknet markets not to be trusted is longer than the list of which ones Redditors have deemed reliable.
One early example of how quickly things could turn sour in post-Silk Road era was Sheep Marketplace, which began operating quietly in March of 2013. After Silk Road was shut down, users flocked to the site. For a while, it seemed poised to be the new Silk Road—until a vendor allegedly exploited a vulnerability and made off with $6 million in Bitcoins. The marketplace abruptly shuttered soon after, taking with it all funds stored on the site. Many suspected the site operator to actually be behind the theft. Online sleuths attempted to track the stolen Bitcoins (reportedly worth anywhere from $100 million to $220 million at the time) as the thief attempted to hide his or her tracks.