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Do police crackdowns disrupt drug cryptomarkets? A longitudinal analysis of the effects of Operation Onymous

Abstract

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of online illicit markets where participants can purchase and sell a wide range of goods and services such as drugs, hacking services, and stolen financial information. Second-generation markets, known as cryptomarkets, provide a pseudo-anonymous platform from which to operate and have attracted the attention of researchers, regulators, and law enforcement. This paper focuses on the impact of police crackdowns on cryptomarkets, and more particularly on the impact of Operation Onymous, a large-scale police operation in November 2014 that targeted many cryptomarkets. Our results demonstrate that cryptomarket participants adapt to police operations and that the impact of Operation Onymous was limited in time and scope. Of particular interest is the finding that prices did not increase following Operation Onymous, even though many dealers retired shortly after it occurred.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    SR2 was somewhat affiliated with SR1 as its main administrators had been moderators on SR1.

  2. 2.

    Johns is a generic term that describes the men looking for escorts.

  3. 3.

    The Levenshtein distance between compute and commute is 1, as changing one character, p, transforms the first string into the second.

  4. 4.

    These are not actual dealer names but are indicative of the differences found in dealer names.

  5. 5.

    CLOUD-NINE did not provide any feedback information in its listing pages. Listings on AGORA only presented the last 20 feedbacks, preventing us from measuring the exact number of feedbacks for each listings.

  6. 6.

    On EVOLUTION, the dealer profiles listed number of feedbacks up to 1500. Dealers with more than 1500 feedbacks were listed as having 1500+ feedbacks. Given the small number of dealers with 1500+ feedbacks, these dealers were removed from the datasets.

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Correspondence to D. Décary-Hétu.

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Décary-Hétu, D., Giommoni, L. Do police crackdowns disrupt drug cryptomarkets? A longitudinal analysis of the effects of Operation Onymous. Crime Law Soc Change 67, 55–75 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-016-9644-4

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Keywords

  • Cryptomarket
  • Police crackdown
  • Displacement
  • Illicit drug market