How online black markets work
Corporate investigator Brandon Gregg looks at how bitcoins and Tor make anonymous black markets tick
By Brandon Gregg , CPP
Finding MarketsThe conversion of dollars to Bitcoins was legal and relatively safe. Actually engaging in black market shopping, though, connects you to various kinds of illegal activities. We'll continue our walkthrough but we are NOT endorsing these activities. This information can help security professionals understand how stolen identities and credit cards are used, how products are fenced or distributed illegally, and more.
Clearly anyone engaging in black market activity wants to remain anonymous. So the next step in black market shopping is to download and open the Tor Bundle Pack (https://www.torproject.org/).
We have touched on Tor two or three times to protect your identity while online, but Tor includes other functions. Developed by the US Navy for secret communications and now used to circumvent blocked websites at offices across the country and to inspire Arab Springs, TOR has a darker cousin: Hidden Tor Servers.
The same random spider-web routing of Internet traffic that hides an end use's IP and location from any prying eyes can hide server locations too.
Hidden Tor Servers are now the norm for storing, accessing and hiding illicit activity such as child pornography. The level of protection provided by Tor makes law enforcement's job tracking such activities next to impossible. (Interestingly, the hacktivist group Anonymous has recently brought attention to such evil servers by controlling them as DDOS servers against some of their targets, including law enforcement and government groups. If the CIA is struck with a DDOS attack, the agency suffers but also, in investigating the source of the attack, discovers the child pornography and hopefully cracks the pornography ring.) Hidden Tor Servers are likewise home to much black market activity.
Where does one find "the black market"? What does it look like? Of course, Google search answers these questions easily. Using your Tor browser (which, yes, is much slower than a standard browser) search for "Tor Directories". These websites offer a collection of Tor's hidden web pages for all kinds of storefronts. Here you will find websites similar to the Yahoo's early days, categorizing storefronts including Drugs, Weapons and other illegal goods and activities. If the directory (or store) is listed with a standard .com or .org domain, it will open in your standard browser; if it ends in .onion then it means it's a hidden server only viewable on the Tor browser.
One example is the Nobody@Zerodays website (nobody.zerodays.org/hidden-directory/), which offers reviews and direct links to current Hidden Tor sites. In our scenario we are going to check out the Black Market Reloaded and look for the current price of some credit cards and tools.
Using Tor you can quickly jump to the Black Market Reloaded website, register (no real information needed), and start shopping. As on Amazon, sellers show off their products with details, pictures and pricing, including feedback collected from past buyers. On a given day in April, current pricing for bulk credit cards is running at $6.5 BTC with great seller feedback. One seller advertises:
"All of our Products are coming with full given Information. That means: All needed information like cardnumber, security code, expiration date, name, address, city, state, zipcode, country, phone, SSN, DOB, security question etc. is given. Also Track 1+2 data and PIN. All CCs are checked and have a minimum Balance of 1000¬/$, and most of them are from an EU-Country. We also have US-Cards, but it's easier to cashout the money at ATMs (/buy virtual money online/link the CC to PayPal) with european ones."
A "Credit card reader/writer, HiCo/LoCo, all ISO complete" is going for 76.60350 BTC (or $366.63 USD at the time of our exchange) and there are also a handful of unregistered handguns, including a brand new M9 Tactical handgun with an illegal silencer, unregistered of course, for 225.00000 BTC or $1,076.87 USD.