Plug and Prey? Measuring the Commoditization of Cybercrime via Online Anonymous Markets

Rolf van Wegberg, Samaneh Tajalizadehkhoob, Kyle Soska, Ugur Akyazi, Carlos Hernandez Ganan, Bram Klievink, Nicolas Christin, Michel van Eeten

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)
151 Downloads (Pure)


Researchers have observed the increasing commoditization of cybercrime, that is, the offering of capabilities, services, and resources as commodities by specialized suppliers in the underground economy. Commoditization enables outsourcing, thus lowering entry barriers for aspiring criminals, and potentially driving further growth in cybercrime. While there is evidence in the literature of specific examples of cybercrime commoditization, the overall phenomenon is much less understood. Which parts of cybercrime value chains are successfully commoditized, and which are not? What kind of revenue do criminal business-to-business (B2B) services generate and how fast are they growing? We use longitudinal data from eight online anonymous marketplaces over six years, from the original Silk Road to AlphaBay, and track the evolution of commoditization on these markets. We develop a conceptual model of the value chain components for dominant criminal business models. We then identify the market supply for these components over time. We find evidence of commoditization in most components, but the outsourcing options are highly restricted and transaction volume is often modest. Cash-out services feature the most listings and generate the largest revenue. Consistent with behavior observed in the context of narcotic sales, we also find a significant amount of revenue in retail cybercrime, i.e., business-to-consumer (B2C) rather than business to-business. We conservatively estimate the overall revenue for cybercrime commodities on online anonymous markets to be at least US $15M between 2011-2017. While there is growth, commoditization is a spottier phenomenon than previously assumed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium
PublisherUSENIX Association
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)978-1-931971-46-1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event27th USENIX Security Symposium - Baltimore, United States
Duration: 15 Aug 201817 Aug 2018


Conference27th USENIX Security Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Cybercrime
  • commodization
  • online anonymous marketplaces
  • darknet
  • malicious software


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