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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
SR2 was somewhat affiliated with SR1 as its main administrators had been moderators on SR1.
Johns is a generic term that describes the men looking for escorts.
The Levenshtein distance between compute and commute is 1, as changing one character, p, transforms the first string into the second.
These are not actual dealer names but are indicative of the differences found in dealer names.
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.
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.
Aldridge, J. & Décary-Hétu, D. (2014). Not An ‘ebay For Drugs’: The Cryptomarket’Silk Road’as A Paradigm Shifting Criminal Innovation. SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2436643.
Rush, H., Smith, C., Kraemer-Mbula, E. & Tang, P. (2009). Crime Online: Cybercrime and Illegal Innovation. Online: http://eprints.brighton.ac.uk/5800/.
Martin, J. (2014). Drugs on the dark net: how cryptomarkets are transforming the global trade in illicit drugs. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
EMCDDA. (2015a). European Drug Report. Trends and Developments. Online: http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/edr2015.
D.O.J. (2014). Dozens of Online “Dark Markets” Seized Pursuant to Forfeiture Complaint Filed in Manhattan Federal Court in Conjunction with the Arrest of the Operator of Silk Road 2.0. Online: http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/dozens-online-dark-markets-seized-pursuant-forfeiture-complaint-filed-manhattan-federal.
D.O.J. (2015). Ross Ulbricht, the Creator and Owner of the “Silk Road” Website, Found Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court an All Counts. Online: http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/ross-ulbricht-creator-and-owner-silk-road-website-found-guilty-manhattan-federal-court.
EMCDDA. (2015b). The Internet and Drug Markets. Summary of Results from an EMCDDA Trendspotter Study. Online: http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/technical-reports/internet-drug-markets.
EUROPOL. (2014). The Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment. Online: https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/internet-organised-crime-threat-assesment-iocta.
UNODC. (2014). World Drug Report 2014. Online: http://www.unodc.org/wdr2014/.
Buxton, J. & Bingham, T. (2015). The Rise and Challenge of Dark Net Drug Markets. Online: http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/23274/1/Darknet%20Markets.pdf.
Van Buskirk, J., Roxburgh, A., Farrell, M., & Burns, L. (2014). The closure of the silk road: what has this meant for online drug trading? Addiction, 109(4), 517–518.
Soska, K. & Christin, N. (2015). "Measuring The Longitudinal Evolution Of The Online Anonymous Marketplace Ecosystem." 24th USENIX Security Symposium. Washington D.C., USA.
MacCoun, R., & Reuter, P. (2001). Drug war heresies: learning from other vices, times, & places. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rydell, C. P. & Everingham, S. S. (1994). Controlling Cocaine: Supply Versus Demand Programs. Online: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a281785.pdf.
Reuter, P., & Kleiman, M. (1986). Risks and prices: an economic analysis of drug enforcement. Crime and Justice, 7, 289–340.
Caulkins, J., & Reuter, P. (1998). What Price Data Tell Us About Drug Markets. Journal of Drug Issues, 28, 593–612.
Ramstedt, M. (2006). What drug policies cost. Estimating drug policy expenditures in Sweden. Addiction, 101(3), 330–338.
Reuter, P. (2006). What drug policies cost. Estimating government drug policy expenditures. Addiction, 101(3), 315–322.
Rigter, H. (2006). What drug policies cost. Drug policy spending in the Netherlands in 2003. Addiction, 101(3), 323–329.
Moore, M. H. (1990). Supply reduction and drug law enforcement. Crime and Justice, 13, 109–157.
Babor, T. F., Caulkings, J., Edwards, G., Fischer, B., Foxcroft, D., & Humphreys, K. (2010). Drug policy and the public good. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Scott, M. S. (2003). The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns. Online: http://www.popcenter.org/responses/police_crackdowns/.
Best, D., Strang, J., Beswick, T., & Gossop, M. (2001). Assessment of a concentrated, high-profile police operation. No discernible impact on drug availability, price or purity. British Journal of Criminology, 41(4), 738–745.
Edmunds, M., Hough, M., & Urqufa, N. (1996). Tackling Local Drug Markets. Online: http://www.popcenter.org/problems/drugdealing_openair/PDFs/Edmunds_Hough_Urquia_1996.pdf.
Kerr, T., Small, W., & Wood, E. (2005). The Public Health and Social Impacts of Drug Market Enforcement: A Review of the Evidence. The International Journal on Drug Policy, 16(4), 210–220.
Mazerolle, L., Soole, D. W., & Rombouts, S. (2006). Street-level drug law enforcement: a meta-analytical review. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 2(4), 409–435.
Weatherburn, D., & Lind, B. (1997). The impact of law enforcement activity on a heroin market. Addiction, 92(5), 557–569.
Wood, E., Spittal, P. M., Small, W., Kerr, T., Li, K., Hogg, R. S., Tyndall, M. W., Montaner, J. S. G., & Schechter, M. T. (2004). Displacement of Canada’s largest public illicit drug market in response to a police crackdown. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 170(10), 1551–1556.
Nguyen, H., & Reuter, P. (2012). How Risky Is Marijuana Possession? Considering the Role of Age, Race, and Gender. Crime & Delinquency, 58(6), 879–910.
Pollack, H. A., & Reuter, P. H. (2014). Does tougher enforcement make drugs more expensive? Addiction, 109(12), 1959–1966.
Small, W., Kerr, T., Charrette, J., Schechter, M. T., & Spittal, P. M. (2006). Impacts of intensified police activity on injection drug users: evidence from an ethnographic investigation. The International Journal on Drug Policy, 17(2), 85–95.
Bless, R., Korf, D. J., & Freeman, M. (1995). Open Drug Scenes: A Cross-National Comparison of Concepts and Urban Strategies. European Addiction Research, 1, 128–138.
May, T., & Hough, M. (2001). Illegal dealings: the impact of low-level police enforcement on drug markets. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 9(2), 137–162.
Maher, L., & Dixon, D. (1999). Policing and public health: law enforcement and harm minimization in a street-level drug market. British Journal of Criminology, 39(4), 488–512.
Wood, E., Kerr, T., Small, W., Jones, J., & Tyndall, M. T. (2003). The impact of a police presence on access to needle exchange programs. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 34(1), 116–118.
Weisburd, D., & Green, L. (1995). Policing Drug hot spots: the jersey city drug market analysis experiment. Justice Quarterly, 12(4), 711–735.
Dingledine, R., Mathewson, N., & Syverson, P. (2004). Tor: The Second-Generation Onion Router. Online: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a465464.pdf.
Nakamoto, S. (2008). Bitcoin: A Peer-To-Peer Electronic Cash System. Online: http://www.cryptovest.co.uk/resources/Bitcoin%20paper%20Original.pdf.
Chen, A. (2011). The Underground Website Where You Can Buy Any Drug Imaginable. Online: http://gawker.com/the-underground-website-where-you-can-buy-any-drug-imag-30818160.
Flitter, E. (2015). U.S. Sharply Reduces Silk Road’s Estimated Sales Volume. Online: http://www.torontosun.com/2015/01/16/us-sharply-reduces-silk-roads-estimated-sales-volume.
Christin, N. (2013). Traveling the silk road: a measurement analysis of a large anonymous online marketplace. Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on World Wide Web.
FBI. (2013). "Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Seizure of Additional $28 Million Worth of Bitcoins Belonging to Ross William Ulbricht, Alleged Owner and Operator of “Silk Road” Website." Online: https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/newyork/press-releases/2013/manhattan-u.s.-attorney-announces-seizure-of-additional-28-million-worth-of-bitcoins-belonging-to-ross-william-ulbricht-alleged-owner-and-operator-ofsilk-road-website. Accessed 7 Nov 2015.
OpenBazaar. (2015). OpenBazaar. Online: https://openbazaar.org/.
Paoli, L., Greenfield, V. A., & Reuter, P. H. (2009). The world heroin market: can supply be cut? Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kilmer, B. (2002). Do cannabis possession laws influence cannabis use? In B. Kilmer (Ed.), Cannabis 2002 Report to the Ministers of Public Health of Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland. Retrieved from http://www.cpha.ca/uploads/portals/substance/cannabis_report_2002.pdf.
Décary-Hétu, D. (2014). Police Operations 3.0: On the Impact and Policy Implications of Police Operations on the Warez Scene. Policy & Internet, 6(3), 315–340.
Lavorgna, A. (2015). Organised crime goes online: realities and challenges. Journal of Money Laundering Control., 18(2), 153–168.
Holt, T. J., Blevins, K. R., & Kuhns, J. B. (2008). Examining the displacement practices of Johns with on-line data. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(6), 522–528.
Holt, T. J., & Lampke, E. (2010). Exploring stolen data markets online: products and market forces. Criminal Justice Studies, 23(1), 33–50.
Branwen, G. (2015b). Silk Road 2 Scrape Torrent Released. Online: https://www.reddit.com/r/SilkRoad/comments/36jmp2/silk_road_2_scrape_torrent_released/.
Branwen, G. (2015c). Evolution Market Mirror/Scrapes Torrent Released. Online: https://www.reddit.com/r/DarkNetMarkets/comments/2zllmv/evolution_market_mirrorscrapes_torrent_released/.
Leclerc, B., & Wortley, R. (2014). The reasoning criminal: twenty-five years on. In B. Leclerc & R. Wortley (Eds.), Cognition and crime: offender decision making and script analyses. New York: Routledge.
Branwen, G. (2015a). Tor Black-Market-Related Arrests. Online: http://www.gwern.net/Black-market%20arrests.
Paoli, L. (2002). Flexible hierarchies and dynamic disorder’: the drug distribution system in Frankfurt and Milan. Drugs: Education, Prevention And Policy, 9(2), 143–151.
Décary-Hétu, D., & Laferrière, D. (2015). Discrediting vendors in online criminal markets. In A. Malm & G. Bichler (Eds.), Disrupting criminal networks: network analysis in crime prevention. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Police crackdown
- Illicit drug market