New research from Flashpoint and Chainalysis describers the inside workings, its cryptocurrency financial connections, and the rise to king of the east of “Hydra,” the Russian-language darknet marketplace known primarily for its illegal, high-traffic drugs market.
At its start in 2015, Hydra became known for the online sale of drugs in Russian speaking countries. But time passes and things change. In the past year Hydra has expanded to include such things as stolen credit card information, fraud services and products, counterfeit documents, fraudulent banknotes, online attack services and more.
Where Hydra started with an annual revenue of $9.4 million in 2016 it has now grown to $1.37 billion in 2020 still remaining to Russian countries and some bordering Eastern European countries as well. The thing is, everything that borders there buys at Hydra and resells to the rest of the world making Hydra the prominent marketplace for hundreds of millions of people.
Cryptocurrency is often used by cybercriminals on darknet marketplaces to maintain a certain level of anonymity while making illegal purchases online or to launder money. However, the technology used for these transactions; Blockchain, still ends itself to be analyzed quite well. In any case, enough to reveal something about transaction rates. Researchers have shown that in Hydra’s three most recent years the market has grown by 624% year-over-year, making it potentially one of the more popular criminal marketplaces at present.
For now, the market, which only serves Russian speakers and will remain to do so for the foreseeable future has managed two avoid major downtime aside from short periods of being offline or seizure by law enforcement. There are rumors they have helped law enforcement in the past. However, more and more eyes are starting to point towards Hydra and her users.
Sticking to the rules
Hydra, much like many other marketplaces, keep a tight leash on its users and has strict seller guidelines and requirements. The adherence to these rules contribute to the marketplaces success. As of July 2018 for example; Sellers can’t make 1 withdraw until they have at least 50 successful sales under their belt and an eWallet account containing at least $10,000 has to be maintained. For some these may look like unrealistic demands but fr the market Hydra operates in, it works. Whether this would also work for western markets is unsure. We do know that vendors on western marketplaces have a different m.o. and can’t always be compared to how Hydra operates.
The exchanges that allow transactions from and to Hydra are qualified as High Risk. They do not enforce Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations and are mostly located in Russia. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of Hydra’s transactions are actually sent through cryptocurrency platforms generally associated with legitimate trading.
Over 1,000 unique deposit addresses and transactions upwards of $7 million, thought to be linked to Hydra, have been recorded.
The same goes for withdrawals for that matter. They are mostly set through various payments services and non-KYC exchanges exclusively or primarily based in Russia or Russian-friendly Eastern European countries based on Flashpoint’s intelligence report. Hydra also requires all their sellers to convert their profits into FIAT, Russian currency.
Hydra is a clear-cut example of the iron fist principle imposed on its users but it does work. Hydra accounts are valuable and even sub-markets have been established to sell established seller accounts. Some stores are even being sold for prices up to $10,000. On the other side buyers are also trying to find ways around Hydra’s fiat currency withdrawal requirements. All the get a cut of the profits being made.
Law enforcement agencies have seized and shut down numerous marketplaces in recent years ranging from Silk Road to DarkMarket and dishing out hefty prison sentences. For how, Hydra has escaped that dance but the question remains…for how long?