Producing trust among illicit actors: A techno-social approach to an online illicit market

Angus Bancroft*, Tim Squirrell, Andreas Zaunseder, Irene Rafanell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Illicit market exchanges in cybercriminal markets are plagued by problems of verifiability and enforceability: trust is one way to ensure reliable exchange. It is fragile and hard to establish. One way to do that is to use the administrative structure of the market to control transactions. This is common among a specific type of market, darknet cryptomarkets. These are sites for the sale of illicit goods and services, hosted anonymously using the Tor darknet. However reliance on the technology and the market administrators exposes users to excessive risk. We examine a case of a market that rejects several key technological features now common in cryptomarkets, but is nonetheless reliable and robust. We apply a techno-social approach that looks at the way participants use and combine technologies with social relationships. Methods were designed to capture the interactional context of the illicit market. We aimed to examine both person to person interaction and the technical infrastructure the market relied on. We find that it maintains itself through a shared common security orientation, community participation in key decisions about products sold, performing trust signalling and lateral trust between members. There are implications for how resilience in cryptomarkets is understood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-472
Number of pages17
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number3
Early online date12 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • cryptomarkets
  • darknet
  • drugs
  • trust
  • digital sociology


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