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kottke.org posts about Jonathan Logan

Meet the Black Market Dropgangs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

Ok, this is fascinating. In “dropgangs, or the future of darknet markets”, Jonathan Logan shares how vendors on the darknet have evolved in recent years. Instead of relying on markets like Silk Road to connect with customers and the post office to deliver, vendors have brought customer communications in-house and utilize public dead drop locations for delivery, just like espionage organizations.

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant’s side.

The use of messaging platforms provides a much better user experience to the customers, who can now reach their suppliers with mobile applications they are used to already. It also means that a larger part of the communication isn’t routed through the Tor or I2P networks anymore but each side - merchant and customer - employ their own protection technology, often using widely spread VPNs.

The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means - he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

Logan expects this type of thing to become more widespread in the near future and it will be difficult to know what effect it will have on society. Maybe one of those effects is that being a corner hopper (like in The Wire) will be more widely available to young people (emphasis mine):

More people will find their livelihoods in taking part in these distribution networks, since required skills and risks are low, while a steady income for the industrious can be expected. Instead of delivering papers, teenagers will service dead drops.

(via @pomeranian99)