Obtaining reliable information about darknet markets (DNMs) is a constant struggle, given the propensity of news sites and forums to come and go. No sooner has one portal gained ascendancy than it’s been toppled by law enforcement or exited under mysterious circumstances. The recent disappearance of darknet forum Dread has left a gaping hole in the DNM community – and a host of unanswered questions.
Also read: Despite Setbacks, Darknet Markets Show Continuous Growth in 2019
Hugbunter Flicks the Dead Man’s Switch
Dread is dead. The darknet forum where buyers and sellers gathered to exchange links, rate vendors, and discuss opsec has been offline for almost a fortnight. The site didn’t hold cryptocurrency deposits or directly facilitate DNM transactions, but was nevertheless a crucial cog in the darknet economy. The site went offline 10 days ago, prompting speculation as to what may have happened to its pseudonymous admin, Hugbunter. DNM tracker site dark.fail currently displays a warning that reads:
Dread is offline, Hugbunter is missing. Assume Dread and its team are compromised. Rotate all passwords you may have used there immediately. Assume all unencrypted private messages you sent have been compromised. Re-evaluate your OPSEC.
Users of darknet markets should not be directly affected by Dread’s disappearance, unless they’ve used the same password to access DNMs or sent incriminating private messages on its forum that may now be in the hands of law enforcement or hackers. “HugBunter’s Deadman Has Been Switched” reads the front page of Dread, with the remainder of the site inaccessible.
A dead man’s switch is “designed to be activated or deactivated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.” It’s been used in the past by Julian Assange, for instance, as a means of guaranteeing that damaging information on adversaries will be released in the event of his arrest or death. Edward Snowden is also believed to have set one up.