Developments in anonymous communication technologies in the 1990s and early 2000s led to the rise of a number of websites and services, that users could participate in anonymously. Collectively referred as the "dark web," these sites and services are surrounded by a mystique that is actually rather unwarranted, given that, however anonymous they may be, they are publicly accessible. In this talk, I will focus on "dark web markets" or online anonymous electronic marketplaces, in which buyers and sellers can transact with anonymity guarantees far superior to those available in online or offline alternatives. Unsurprisingly, the superior anonymity guarantees result in a number of illicit products (narcotics, compromised digital goods) being bartered. I will describe longitudinal measurements that help us better understand this dynamic ecosystem and its evolution over a number of years. In the process, I will highlight the scientific challenges in collecting such data at scale. I will show that, despite the primarily illicit nature of the offerings on these markets, online anonymous markets share a number of commonalities with their more legitimate cousins, thereby evidencing that a number of economic properties generally apply to online commerce, irrespective of the legality of its purpose.
Nicolas Christin is an Associate Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, jointly appointed in the School of Computer Science and in Engineering & Public Policy. He is affiliated with the Institute for Software Research, and a core faculty in CyLab, the university-wide information security institute. He also has courtesy appointments in the Information Networking Institute and the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He holds a Diplôme d'Ingénieur from École Centrale Lille, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from the University of Virginia. He was a researcher in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, prior to joining Carnegie Mellon in 2005. His research interests are in computer and information systems security; most of his work is at the boundary of systems and policy research. He has most recently focused on security analytics, online crime modeling, and economics and human aspects of computer security. His group's research won several awards including Honorable Mention at ACM CHI 2011 and 2016, Best Student Paper Award at USENIX Security 2014, and Best Paper Award at USENIX Security 2016 and ACM CHI 2017. He equally enjoys field measurements and mathematical modeling.