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Measuring the Longitudinal Evolution of the Online Anonymous Marketplace Ecosystem
Kyle Soska and Nicolas Christin, Carnegie Mellon University
February 2011 saw the emergence of Silk Road, the first successful online anonymous marketplace, in which buyers and sellers could transact with anonymity properties far superior to those available in alternative online or offline means of commerce. Business on Silk Road, primarily involving narcotics trafficking, rapidly boomed, and competitors emerged. At the same time, law enforcement did not sit idle, and eventually managed to shut down Silk Road in October 2013 and arrest its operator. Far from causing the demise of this novel form of commerce, the Silk Road take-down spawned an entire, dynamic, online anonymous marketplace ecosystem, which has continued to evolve to this day. This paper presents a long-term measurement analysis of a large portion of this online anonymous marketplace ecosystem, including 16 different marketplaces, over more than two years (2013– 2015). By using long-term measurements, and combining our own data collection with publicly available previous efforts, we offer a detailed understanding of the growth of the online anonymous marketplace ecosystem. We are able to document the evolution of the types of goods being sold, and assess the effect (or lack thereof) of adversarial events, such as law enforcement operations or large-scale frauds, on the overall size of the economy. We also provide insights into how vendors are diversifying and replicating across marketplaces, and how vendor security practices (e.g., PGP adoption) are evolving. These different aspects help us understand how traditional, physical-world criminal activities are developing an online presence, in the same manner traditional commerce diversified online in the 1990s.
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