Outlaw, a veteran marketplace on the Dark Web, was shuttered abruptly last week with no plausible explanation, according to Bleeping Computer.
It may not have been the most robust of marketplaces on the underground, but it still had a steady stream of business the past few years, particularly after the shuttering of Silk Road, the article said.
One explanation is that the site was hacked but others refute the claim saying it was an exit strategy – with funds disappearing along with the web presence.
The online depot sold the usual illicit Dark Web items – everything from drugs and weapons to data dumps and stolen electronics. One distinguishing asset was its "dead drop," an option that allowed clients to receive their purchases from sellers or at designated locations.
Before disappearing on 16 May, the site posted a message on its home page: "This website has been hacked, the wallet stolen. it's over. goodbye outlaw market…"
A few days later, a low-level administrator of the site posted a message on Pastebin claiming that Outlaw was indeed hacked and refuted that "the admins ran off with the coins." Stating that he was no longer in contact with the main administrators, he apologised to users who lost money and admitted he did not know "whether everything was stolen, and if not, how the admins would be planning on refunding."
Speculation on one message board is that with Bitcoin prices reaching new heights, the team behind the marketplace decided to cash out, taking the Bitcoin funds out of customer escrow accounts. However, the same admin who posted the apology told a cryptomarket researcher that the site never accumulated large amounts of cash. The total, he said, likely did not surpass $20,000 (£15,400).
Dark Web marketplaces are frequently targeted by hackers – some have even offered bug bounty programs to uncover flaws in their coding.