The Photon Research Team of Digital Shadows has published new research highlighting a popular dark web marketplace called BitBazaar that got called out for attempted manipulation of subscriber numbers on the popular dark web platform, Dread.
"Roll on one month and with falling user levels, poor staff behavior, and allegations of withdrawal issues; everything points to an exit scam. Meanwhile, a new marketplace called “Neptune Market” has been waiting in the wings, preparing to fill the void," writes the Photon Research Team.
The report breaks down how BitBazaar's alleged exit scam developed and looks at Neptune market and its attempt to break into the cybercriminal scene. Here, we compile some of the findings.
According to the research team, in early May 2020, Dread administrator “Paris” banned BitBazaar’s subdread, accusing the platform of “massive subscriber manipulation.” BitBazaar allegedly inflated their subread’s subscriber numbers to make the marketplace appear more popular than it was. The tactic could potentially be adopted to drive up traffic numbers to any given site and enhance its reputation.
After BitBazaar denied the allegations, they began to push a counter-narrative, stating they were on the receiving end of many attacks and that they only care about their platform security and its users. Ultimately, Dread’s administrator upheld the ban on BitBazaar’s subdread. They claimed a forum such as Dread would have given the marketplace “millions of impressions and thousands of clicks per 1 month period”. They likely did not want Dread to contribute further to an allegedly dishonest marketplace’s success.
Since the ban, BitBazaar's growth momentum appeared to stall, and user interest levels took a nosedive. The research team writes, "Although vendors reported that the service was still up and running as normal, they recognized a drop in the number of buyers since the Dread ban. User “oilcenter” said, “All we can say from a vendors perspective, our sales are real and our customers are real.” They added: “Sales are going down since this Dread-ban, thats for sure.” Approximately one month after the ban, BitBazaar buyers and vendors posted accusations of money withdrawal issues on Dread. Rumors of a possible exit scam also started to appear. For example, on 30 May 2020, a user posted a conversation they had had with BitBazaar staff. They outlined their difficulties withdrawing funds from the marketplace despite resetting their PIN as directed and directly sending a BTC address for their money to be paid. This user received aggressive responses from the marketplace staff, which ultimately led to the user being banned from the marketplace and their money not being refunded."
But, regardless of whether BitBazaar did conduct an exit scam, was hacked by an unknown entity, marketplace vendors and buyers have had trust burned once again, showing the power of forums, such as Dread or The Hub, in making or breaking of criminal marketplaces, reveal the researchers.
With BitBazaar making a sharp exit stage-right from the cybercriminal scene, there has been an array of candidates lining up to take its spot and provide a new home for BitBazaar’s abandoned vendors and buyers, claim the researchers. One marketplace that has caught Digital Shadows’ attention is Neptune Market - a marketplace that officially launched itself on The Hub and Dread in late June 2020 and has since established a presence on “onion.live” (a Tor network directory service) and created a dedicated subdread to provide updates and facilitate communications directly with subscribers.
Neptune has been heavily working on incorporating features such as Jabber and Telegram order notifications through an integrated API, which is unusual in other dark web marketplaces. The platform has undergone security testing to ensure it was well coded and secure.
But what does this mean? Not a lot, says Digital Shadows. "The dark web cybercriminal scene is familiar with exit scams, deceptive tactics, and unreliability issues. It is highly likely this latest event will have little to no impact on the broader landscape," claim the researchers. "There are already several candidates waiting patiently in line to take the place of Neptune Market, if and when it meets its almost inevitable demise! Like all new dark web marketplaces, time and patience will be essential to Neptune’s sustained growth, along with a capable administration team and support members who can answer queries and address any issues. What the future holds for Neptune Market is unknown."