The Sordid, Sneaky Story of Dark Market
In October of 2004, a Secret Service sting centered around the website shadowcrew.com (no link because it’s now a generic parked domain) led to the arrest of 28 people involved in identity theft, credit card scamming and the like, and created a cascade effect that shuttered most of the other sites that facilitated trade in this kind of information. From the wreckage, DarkMarket.ws arose to fill the void. Known for its zeal in scrutinizing users to filter out narcs, the site had a solid reputation as a 1st rate den of thieves.
Inevitably, jealous competitors tried to knock them down a peg. In 2006, Max Ray Butler (a “security consultant” who turned to the darkside) claimed that he had infiltrated the darkmarket server and discovered that the site’s lead administrator, “Master Splyntr” was logging in from an FBI location in Pittsburgh. This was typical of the jousting between competing sites; Butler was later arrested for cyber crimes and darkmarket grew to be more popular than ever.
As it turns out, Butler was 100% right.
On September 16th, 2008, Master Splyntr announced that DarkMarket would be shutting down on October 4th. “[R]ecent events have proven that even in our best efforts to expel and deactivate the accounts of suspected LE [law enforcement], reporters, and security agents, it is obvious that we haven’t been entirely successful,” Splyntr wrote in a message on the site.”It is apparent that this forum … is attracting too much attention from a lot of the world services (agents of FBI, SS, and Interpol). I guess it was only time before this would happen. It is very unfortunate that we have come to this situation, because … we have established DM as the premier English speaking forum for conducting business. Such is life. When you are on top, people try to bring you down.” (Thanks, Wired!) A lot of reasons seemed to be the cause at the time, most notably the then- recent arrest of a Turkish hacker named Cha0 who was also a DarkMarket admin.
In fact, DarkMarket was taken down in preparation for a coordinated series of raids that resulted in the arrest of 56 people worldwide. Yep. “Master Splyntr” is actually J. Keith Mularski, a senior cybercrime agent based at the National Cyber Forensics Training Alliance in… wait for it… Pittsburgh. Shortly after the site went dark (hur hur hur…) the arrests began. You can read more about this story here and here. I’m just amazed, really. My quasi sister-in-law, a lawyer who knows more than a thing or two about the state of cyber affairs in the world, dismisses conspiracy theories with the compelling-sounding argument “when has the government ever pulled off anything secret?” But really, we wouldn’t know most of the time, would we? And after all, they pulled this off, brilliantly.