Digital billboard displays in Moscow left many viewers scratching their heads last weekend as they were programmed to host advertisements for the Russian-language darknet market Blacksprut. It was not immediately known if the advertisements were purposefully hosted by their providers or the result of a hack, but it is believed to be the first time a darknet market has been advertised in public in such a bold manner.
At least four different billboards ran the ads in some of Moscow’s busiest areas, all of which featured a futuristic theme of a woman sporting a robotic-looking mask. Next to the woman were words being spelled out, translated as “Come to me if you’re looking for the best.” Given Russia’s historically lax nature of combatting darknet marketplaces, it is being assumed by some that the ads were hosted purposefully and perhaps even permitted by regulatory bodies.
Billboard ad for Blacksprut in Moscow. Source: The Record
Blacksprut is home to over 1,100 vendors who service most major population centers within the Russian Federation. A drugs-oriented market, it is known for being relatively lax in its rules and operation, not supporting the use of PGP encryption and allowing buyers to cash in to BTC through its exchangers via Visa and Mastercard. It is also accessible via clear web in addition to its Tor site.
“Implementing higher security and operational security is time-consuming, costly, and may make the user experience more difficult,” said threat intelligence expert Alois Afilipoaie, in a Dec. 2022 interview about Blacksprut’s relative lack of security measures. “If they don’t need to do it because the threat is lower, then they obviously won’t,” they added.
At the end of 2022, Blacksprut was believed to control a larger share of the post-Hydra Russian marketplace scene than any of its competitors, responsible for roughly 28% of sales volume among Russian-speaking darknet market customers. It was followed by Mega at 22%, Omg!Omg! at 17%, Solaris at 13%, and all other markets accounting for 20%. The hacking of Solaris by Mega in January this year, and the subsequent absorption of its customer base, has since shifted this dynamic to put Mega in position of current front-runner.
Blacksprut is pro-Kremlin in its political stance, letting their support for Russia’s war in Ukraine be known on several occasions. Its admins appear to have donated sums of cryptocurrency to Russia-sided paramilitary fighters for the purpose of buying body armor and other equipment.