Although bitcoin (BTC) has historically been the cryptocurrency most closely associated with illegal darknet markets, Monero has recently been gaining visibility in that ecosystem.
Darknet markets offer various illicit products, including drugs of all kinds, stolen credentials to access multiple websites, and even counterfeit documents. Naturally, buyers and sellers prefer anonymity and optimal privacy for those transactions.
These platforms have their own code. In addition to not allowing the sale of weapons or the offer and contracting of services to harm third parties, in the darknet markets we find especially preservation of anonymity as a principle. Among the policies of many of those sites we can see that they even mention sanctions against those who reveal private data of third parties.
With that spirit as a guide, users in these markets have begun to see Monero as an alternative that offers greater privacy with respect to the pioneering cryptocurrency. Although there are options to make Bitcoin transactions more private, for many in these markets it is insufficient.
Payments with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on the darknet
The growing interest in greater privacy has not generated a shift in Bitcoin as a privileged means of payment in these markets. As reported by CryptoNews in mid-July, the use of Bitcoin rather it had remarkable growth in the first quarter of 2020, with respect to the same period of the previous year.
A Crystal Blockchain report revealed a 65% increase between the two periods previously described. During the first three months of 2019, about $ 21 million in BTC moved in the dark markets, while in 2020 the figure was $ 55 million.
According to Chainalysis, on the other hand, the percentages of payments with cryptocurrencies are still low compared to the total in dark markets. As reported by this medium, a report from January of this year revealed the payments with some cryptocurrency on the darknet barely reached 6.32 million dollars, out of a total of 800 million dollars spent during 2019 in those markets.
Since 2019, we see how funds in BTC moved on the darknet are only around 1%. In 2012, the percentage of bitcoin payments on the darknet was 7%, so the latest figures mean a significant drop. Despite this, various reports place BTC as the most widely used cryptocurrency on the darknet.
Before this wave of interest in Monero, darknet users were already concerned about privacy in cryptocurrency transactions. To guarantee that privacy, there were bitcoin mixing services like Bestmixer or Bitcoin Blender, although both services are no longer available.
In the case of Bitcoin Blender, no further details were given as to what motivated the service shutdown. Months before the closure of Blender, authorities from several countries together with Europol had closed Bestmixer.
Community, questions and privacy as a concern
If we refer to the community around the darknet on Reddit, we find that debate alive: is bitcoin private enough? Is a new exchange currency necessary to maintain anonymity on the darknet? The conclusion is not unanimous, but it is reiterative. The use of Monero is strongly recommended.
The darknet subreddit mentions Bitcoin as a means of payment. In the frequently asked questions section of said community they even point out methods to buy bitcoin and they recommend not sending BTC directly from the purse with which BTC was initially bought, as ways to maintain privacy.
But in the consultation section of the same community we find a guide for the use of Monero. The guide was published just a month ago, which shows the recent interest that the topic arouses among users of the darknet.
What is XMR? XMR is like BTC, it is a cryptocurrency. The difference between XMR and BTC is that XMR is a privacy-focused cryptocurrency. With BTC, everyone can see the sender, the recipient and the amount sent through the blockchain. XMR is different, with XMR, no stranger can see the sender, recipient, and quantity shipped. This makes using XMR better for opsec [protección de los datos].
Monero guide available on the Darknet subreddit
As an example, we could see that a user made a public query in the darknet subreddit. He introduced himself as a beginner and asked for support to understand how to start buying things in the dark markets without being tracked. Among the answers, they recommended use the Tails operating system, learn how to use PGP – an application to protect privacy on the Internet – and use Monero as a currency for exchange in the markets.
“When using cryptocurrencies, avoid bitcoin and exchange houses like Coinbase and others because that is very traceable,” he writes. another user. The same redditor completes: “learn how to use Monero and wallets offline.” Otherwise, he says, it will be easy for governments to track their funds.
In other cases, less experienced users they ask for the best options to operate with bitcoin without being tracked and they find answers as blunt as this redditor’s: “you may want to read about how bitcoin works, there is no such thing as an untraceable wallet.”
The least radical regarding the lack of privacy in Bitcoin recommend the use of mixers for transactions, with services that offer wallets such as Samourai or Wasabi Wallet.
There are also those who directly wonder if it really is safe to use Monero to shop in the dark markets. And responses from community members highly recommend its use.
Among the recommendations, we find those who present Monero as a kind of cash. “Think about buying XMR like withdrawing cash at the ATM: the bank knows that you took out cash (you bought XMR) but it has no idea what you will do with it later”, wrote ABatHat.
Monero gains ground in the darknet markets
We accessed through the Tor privacy browser the darknet markets. A direct review in those markets supports the specialists’ view regarding a still preferential use for the currency created by Satoshi Nakamoto. But a change in that paradigm seems to be in full swing.
In late March, the magazine Luckbox Magazine He interviewed various cybersecurity specialists regarding the tracking of commercial activities in dark markets. Most claimed at the time that Bitcoin held the limelight among cryptocurrencies on the darknet.
Among the interviewees, Timothy Summers considered that “there is a direct correlation between the accepted cryptocurrencies and how private the participants believe the exchange should be.”
Summers referred to two large groups of people: those who would “risk” using bitcoin or some altcoins without privacy, and other “more sophisticated” markets, those who use Monero or Zcash. But, he added, “there is no sign that Bitcoin is losing ground.”
In our navigation through these markets, we did not find a direct relationship between the products sold and the accepted cryptocurrencies. The issue depends more on the vision of the markets, than on the fact that they sell harder drugs or cannabis.
Of almost two dozen markets visited on the darknet, there are currently few markets where we find Bitcoin as the only means of payment. Among those few, we find Enigma, where stolen credentials are sold to access various sites, between companies like Adidas or shopping platforms like eBay.
Global Dreams, a market for the sale of all kinds of drugs; and Flugsvamp, also maintain BTC as their only form of payment to date, while there are markets like Vice City, where they are working to incorporate Monero into their payment options.
Stranger is to find sites that accept multiple cryptocurrencies without any of them being XMR. Of the sites investigated, only Tor Market, a drug sales platform, receive bitcoin and some altcoins, but not Monero.
The vast majority of markets receive payments with bitcoin and monero. There are some, like Kilos (“the Amazon of the darknet”), that have exchange services to go from BTC to Monero, and vice versa.
Regardless of the currencies they accept, all of these markets recommend a variety of practices to maintain privacy in sending and receiving funds. Recommendations include using cryptocurrency mixing services and avoiding sending funds directly from exchange houses with KYC (Know Your Customer).
They are also few, but already some darknet markets do not accept bitcoin and opted for Monero as their only payment option. And not only do they accept XMR, they strongly encourage its use and defend its privacy offering in contrast to Bitcoin’s.
One of those “monero-only” markets is White House Market. This platform is presented as “a market with a high level of security and anonymity”. Thus they justify the use of Monero as the only currency for payments: “Bitcoin lacks the required privacy and some users do not know how and neglect the cleaning of their currencies.”
For its part, the Monopoly market does not accept BTC either. However, next to the Monero usage guides (the only currency they accept) we can also find tutorials for the use of Bitcoin, where to buy both cryptocurrencies and methods to “clean your cryptocurrencies”.
Those who manage the Monopoly market consider that “it is time for Monero to become the standard” for commercial transactions on the darknet. They assure in this regard that “not only is it superior, but people are too lazy and they just don’t care about the footprints they leave”.
Every blow against our community is a bullet in the hands of law enforcement and the propaganda of the main media that denounces the ‘great deep web’ in its low-quality articles. It is time to bankrupt these blockchain analyst dogs because they are taking advantage of our disgrace and as a community we must end it.
As darknet users seek to improve their privacy, blockchain analytics companies like Chainalysis or Elliptic advance their transaction tracking systems on Bitcoin and other blockchains.
Although both firms have even switched to tracking private transactions, particularly in Zcash, Monero remains out of reach. The insistence of many users in the dark markets to use XMR starts, as we have seen, from the justification that it is the furthest from the eyes of third parties to date among the most used cryptocurrencies.