​The Dark Web’s Biggest Market Is Going to Stop Selling Guns

Selling weapons is too difficult apparently, in part because of scams and undercover police.

Jul 9 2015, 3:50pm

A rifle seized in an Australian bust in May. Image: Australian Federal Police

The dark web is famous for making nearly anything available for sale. Now the trade in one of its most infamous commodities may be about to dry up. Agora, possibly the largest dark web market online at the moment, has decided to no longer allow lethal weapons to be sold on its digital shelves.

Agora launched just after the first Silk Road was shut down back in late 2013, and has provided access to AK-47s, pistols, and other guns for over a year and a half. The only limits to its vendors is that they can't sell assassination services, weapons of mass destruction, child or violent pornography, poisons, or some certain types of stolen data.

But in a few days time, on 15th July, lethal weapons will be added to that list as well, according to an announcement made on the site.

Several dark web sites refuse to sell weapons as a matter of principle. Agora's change in heart is not due to any moral reasoning, however.

"Following our mission we wish such objects would be available for purchase, but the current reality of it is that the format of a market like ours does not constitute a good way to do it," the announcement read.

A firearm seized in an Australian bust in May. Image: Australian Federal Police

"Shipping weapons is hard, they are expensive," the owners add. Indeed, just recently a US resident was busted for selling weapons on Agora, even if he was caught because his fingerprints were left all over the weapon.

The announcement also points out that those purchasing guns are often the victim of scams, with vendors disappearing with a customer's Bitcoin without delivering an item.

On top of this, there has been a recent spike in the number of undercover operations carried out by law enforcement around the sale of weapons. For example, a six-month joint investigation between agencies in Australia and the United States first led to the arrest of a gun vendor on Agora, and then over a dozen buyers spread across the world were also caught.

After taking over a vendor's account, law enforcement will typically make a series of controlled sales to whomever attempts to purchase guns from them. From here it is trivial to track down the customer, since they have naturally provided a postal address to receive the weapon. This is what happened to US resident Justin Moreira: he paid an undercover agent for a pistol with accompanying silencer for $2,500 in bitcoins, but federal agents were monitoring the postbox that the gun was delivered to.

The FBI declined to provide comment about Agora's decision. A spokesperson from the UK's National Crime Agency said, "Those seeking to provide or obtain illicit goods and services under cover of the dark web continue to discover that they can in fact be tracked and identified, and also that they are highly susceptible to being ripped off."

"Law enforcement bodies around the world, including the NCA, continue working to prevent and disrupt serious cyber-enabled criminality," the spokesperson continued.

Even with Agora pushing guns out of its portfolio, there are still spaces on the dark web to purchase weapons anonymously. One other dark web market, for example, currently has 83 listings for pistols, 17 for long-range rifles, and 26 for explosives. Of course, any number of those could be scams too, but regardless, it doesn't look like guns are going to disappear completely from the dark web for a while, if ever.