A little more than a year after its launch, Agora Marketplace, Silk Road’s closest competitor, became the largest online marketplace on the darknet. The darknet marketplace, launched in September 2013 for the purpose of selling illicit goods, can be accessed only by using Tor, the anonymous browser. Agora has even stood the test of time and survived the Operation Onymous, the government’s drive in November 2014 to crackdown darknet marketplace that resulted in the closure of several high profile black market sites such as Silk Road, Hydra, and Cloud 9. In terms of monetary transaction, Silk Road may still be the biggest, but Agora has surpassed it as far as the number of drugs available for sale is concerned, according to reports.
During the period 29 January 2014 to 22 August 2014 the number of drug listings on Agora’s website increased to 12,053 from 7,400, according to a report published by Digital Citizens Alliance. At the same time, the total number of listings on Agora Marketplace, which also includes weapons and other services, jumped to 16,137 from 9,158.
At the time of sentencing the 31-year old Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, Judge Katherine Forrest had said that tough punishment is being served to him to prevent others from creating darknet marketplaces for selling drugs and offering other illegal services. She had also said during Ulbricht’s sentencing that anyone who might even think of following his footsteps should know that there will be serious consequences for breaking law in this manner.
It looks as though Forrest has underestimated the penetration of the darknet markets. This is because Agora Marketplace which was founded almost soon after the shutting down of Silk Road is not just an illicit marketplace for selling drugs; it offers weapons and several other illegal services to people who learn to search them out on Tor. In addition to Agora Marketplace, there are other temporary darknet markets or “ghost markets” where people can buy whatever they want, but they often disappear suddenly without any warning.
Agora Marketplace Is Smarter Compared to Silk Road
Agora has been managing to evade the law all these days because their site administrators are far more cyber savvy compared to their counterparts in Ross Ulbricht’s Silk Road. Law enforcement officials could easily dig Silk Road’s and Silk Road 2.0’s operations and corner them. On the other hand, the administrators of Agora Marketplace haven’t so far displayed any of the political bravado of Dread Pirate Roberts. Agora’s staff is always tightlipped in the user forums. They just restrict their responses to administrative issues such as site downtime, scammers, etc.
In addition, Agora Marketplace has carefully remained under the radar by allowing only users who have official “invite codes” to access their site. Invite codes are often given to buyers and sellers after vetting their credentials.