Empire Market, one of the biggest dark web marketplaces, has been offline for three days. It’s unclear what has happened to the site’s administrators, whose identities remain unknown.
According to a cybersecurity expert, there are typically two outcomes for marketplaces like Empire Market. Either the admins are arrested, or they steal users’ deposits.
Empire Market was popular for drug deals. It also offered fake documents, such as passports, and malware. After other sites, such as the Silk Road and AlphaBay, shut down, Empire Market was the most-trafficked dark web marketplace.
The goods on Empire Market were exchanged for cryptocurrency. In order to operate on a market like this, anyone wishing to sell has to make a deposit. This money is held in escrow, giving the site’s administrators control over it. That makes it possible for them to simply shut down the site and walk away with the money. One security expert said that the amount held in escrow by Empire Market was difficult to estimate, but at least “single-digit millions.”
At least one moderator on Empire Market fears that the administrators have made off with the funds. “I am crushed and ashamed by my admin’s apparent decision to disappear with your funds,” the moderator wrote. “It’s hard to grasp that this is really happening. I am in shock.” Users say they can no longer access their accounts.