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Identifying key players in dark web marketplaces through Bitcoin transaction networks

dos Reis, E. F., Teytelboym, A., ElBahrawy, A. , De Loizaga, I. & Baronchelli, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-0255-0829 (2024). Identifying key players in dark web marketplaces through Bitcoin transaction networks. Scientific Reports, 14(1), article number 2385. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-50409-5


Dark web marketplaces have been a significant outlet for illicit trade, serving millions of users worldwide for over a decade. However, not all users are the same. This paper aims to identify the key players in Bitcoin transaction networks linked to dark markets and assess their role by analysing a dataset of 40 million Bitcoin transactions involving the 31 major markets in the period 2011–2021. First, we propose an algorithm that categorizes users either as buyers or sellers, and show that a large fraction of the trading volume is concentrated in a small group of elite market participants. We find that the dominance of markets is reflected in trading properties of buyers and sellers. Then, we investigate both market star-graphs and user-to-user networks, and highlight the importance of a new class of users, namely ‘multihomers’, who operate on multiple marketplaces concurrently. Specifically, we show how the networks of multihomers and seller-to-seller interactions can shed light on the resilience of the dark market ecosystem against external shocks. Our findings suggest that understanding the behavior of key players in dark web marketplaces is critical to effectively disrupting illegal activities.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: School of Science & Technology
School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
SWORD Depositor:
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Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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