The Demise of White House Market Will Shake Up the Dark Web

You’ve probably never heard of White House Market. Google can’t find it. Its vendors don’t advertise much. The few public references to the website are on Reddit forums or specialty tech blogs. But among users of the dark web, WHM was, for years, the go-to online marketplace for illegal drugs and fraudulent credit cards.

Despite never reaching the peak trading volumes of its more-famous cousins Silk Road and AlphaBay, White House Market had established itself as one of the most popular—and secure—markets on the dark web. So when WHM unexpectedly closed on October 1, it came as a shock to the platform’s dedicated user base.

The site’s one-page resignation letter was short on details, saying simply that White House Market had “reached our goal” and that “now, according to plan,” the site was shutting down.

“Thanks everybody for your business, trust, support and of course for placing decent amounts of money in our pockets,” the letter read. “We may come back some time in the future with a different project or we may not.” The letter was signed by WHM’s lead administrator, who is known only by his online handle, “mr_white.”

At the time of its closing, the platform had nearly 900,000 users, of which more than a third—roughly 326,000—were active. Like other dark web markets, it was accessible only on anonymity browsers like Tor and I2P. Going by its advertised numbers, White House Market had around 3,000 vendors, whose listings included credit card and bank fraud, forged documents, illegal and prescription drugs like cannabis and ecstasy, opioids like heroin and oxycodone, hallucinogenic drugs including ketamine and PCP, cocaine, steroids, and amphetamines or meth.

That final listing matches the site’s theme, which features Walter White from Breaking Bad on the banner. But unlike Walter White’s fictional operation, this one had a global presence, with vendors and buyers stationed all around the world, although most transactions were conducted in English.

On Tuesday, less than a month after White House Market ceased operations, the Department of Justice announced the results of Operation Dark HunTor—a sweeping, international dark web takedown that resulted in 150 arrests, along with the seizure of weapons, drugs, and more than $31 million in cryptocurrency and cash. A select few of the dark-net vendor accounts identified were sourced to White House Market, according to court documents. Whether WHM and its administrators are under ongoing criminal investigation is an open question.

It’s unclear how much money WHM’s founders made since starting the site in August 2019, but they charged a 4 percent commission on all sales via an almost-untraceable cryptocurrency called Monero. Nicolas Christin, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University whose research focuses on online crime modeling, security economics, and cryptocurrency, estimates that White House Market facilitated at least $35 million in sales, meaning the administrators’ take-home pay could have been at least $1.3 million over the past two years.

On the high end, Christin estimates, sales could have reached $120 million, which would mean the site’s admins walked away with nearly $5 million.

White House Market was also known for its exceptional digital security, dependable customer service, and, perhaps ironically, its ethics: It didn’t allow vendors to sell child pornography, offer murder for hire, or market weapons, explosives, or poisons.