Back

How to access and trade on darknet markets

Your vote is:
5.00 of 18 votes

Welcome to my first counter-economics walkthrough, featuring the darknet.

The darknet is not just a domain for illicit activities, it also serves as a space that offers unparalleled opportunities for discourse, free market trade, and collective and communal discovery. It’s occupied by people from all walks of our complex and layered lives - from outright criminals and troublemakers, to journalists, dissidents, and security researchers (like myself). Whilst I can appreciate that the darknet is widely associated with illegal activity, it’s important to note that simply accessing the darknet is perfectly legal.

There’s a lot of advanced cryptographic protocols and processes behind the workings of what I’m about to explain, but for the purpose of keeping this post short and tailored for a wide audience, I’m going to simplify everything as best I can.


1. Tor

To access the darknet you’ll need to download and install the Tor (the onion routing) browser. This is an open source purpose-built and completely free browser based on Firefox that enables anonymous web surfing, by ensuring that all traffic it processes is heavily protected against traffic analysis.

Tor Logo
Download Tor

Tor establishes a secure network circuit for each browser session, which connects Tor nodes deployed around the world at random. These nodes encrypt your browser traffic in layers at each node hop on its way to/from the source (your browser) and the destination (a hosted hidden service).


2. Darknet markets

With Tor installed, you’ll next need to find a darknet marketplace domain to visit. The Tor network mandates that Tor clients (such as the Tor browser) can only access sites using the .onion TLD. However, these domains are not easy to distinguish, and are usually represented in long, often randomly generated alpha-numeric strings. Finding the correctly represented URL for a particular domain in the first instance can be a challenge.

There are hundreds of marketplaces to choose from, each with their own set of communities, politics, and socio-economic motivations. I wont list them all here, as unfortunately not all survive long enough to outgrow the impulse of real-world influence and fallible human desires. Some get hacked, some get shut down by law enforcement, and some succumb to their own greed - whereby the operators 'exit scam' entire communities. This is why there’s no specific endorsement for any particular marketplace I can make, but I’ll include a few of the most common below for reference.

Please beware of the many fake .onion addresses that frequently circulate the web and are set up as convincing phishing sites. The above hidden service URLs were validated as accurate at the time of this blog post being made, though may require further validation if they are to be relied upon in the future.

 


3. What you can buy

Most darknet marketplaces have a large selection of categories populated with listings from reputable vendors. These are varied, and can include both legal and illegal listings.

In no particular order, I’ve added a table featuring some of the most common categories I’ve observed below:



  • Drugs
  • Doxxing
  • Malware
  • Hacking


  • Software
  • Hosting
  • Electronics
  • Ebooks


  • Firearms
  • Graphics
  • Databases
  • VPNs


  • Jewellery
  • Fraud
  • Passports
  • Programming



4. Buying Bitcoin (BTC)

The first step, if you’re new to this space and want to facilitate a trade, is to buy yourself some cryptocurrency.

This process, in summary, is to trade a value of what you own in digital fiat currency (GBP, USD, AUD, etc) for a value of what you desire in BTC, and can most easily be achieved by registering to a centralised platform, like one of those I’ve included below.

Coinbase Binance Bitfinex Poloniex

Many darknet marketplaces employ the use of specific cryptocurrencies (such as XMR) that use technologies such as stealth addressing and ring signatures to evade traceability. However, these currencies, due to their decentralised and counter-economic nature, are often restricted by centralised platforms from purchase and practical use. This means it’s sometimes possible to buy these currencies (such as XMR) in exchange for fiat (GBP, USD, AUD, etc), but you may find yourself prevented from transferring such currencies outside of the platform you’ve purchased them from.


5. Exchanging Bitcoin (BTC) for Monero (XMR)

A logical and convenient method I’ve seen adopted to get around this problem is to purchase another mainstream currency (such as BTC) via a centralised platform, then to use a third-party service to facilitate an exchange into a darknet marketplace supported currency like XMR.

Below I've added an embedded interactive exchange utility that runs off a secure third-party API, and connects each transaction request with the best real-time market rates offered across a wide number of centralised trading platforms. If you'd like to use it to exchange currencies, please feel free.



6. Making a purchase

Most reputable darknet marketplaces employ the use of escrow systems for mutual buyer and seller protection, with step-by-step client-side encryption features leveraging PGP to ensure end-to-end privacy and anonymity is preserved. This usually (but not always) means that when you supply potentially identifiable information, such as an email address or postal address to receive goods, the marketplace usually auto-encrypts your data to the vendor’s public key in your browser at the point of sale. This is to prevent your data being inadvertently disclosed at any time in the future to anyone other than yourself and the vendor, and ensures that trade participants can remain confidence that marketplace transactions are provably private.

Understanding PGP usage in this context is important, but can be overwhelming for newcomers. A while back I made another blog post on PGP keys which helps explain what PGP is and how it works.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Riggs

Jacob Riggs is a Security Specialist based in the UK with almost a decade of experience working to improve the cyber security of media and third sector organisations. His contributions focus on expanding encryption tools, promoting crypto-anarchist philosophy, and pioneering projects centred on leveraging cryptography to protect the privacy and political freedoms of others.

E3FE 4B44 56F5 69BE 76C1 E169 E3C7 0A52 9AEF DB6F


Subscribe to my Blog

Get my latest posts delivered straight to your inbox.


Loading...
.