While traditional search engines, by definition, don't work for the Dark Web, several sites let you find information on this hidden section of the internet with relative ease. Engines that let you search Dark Web markets in particular abound.
Recon is one of the most recent examples of a darknet market search engine. So what do we know about it?
What Is Recon?
Recon is a tool that users can access to explore multiple Darknet markets simultaneously. So it's in direct competition with other sites, such as Kilos. Instead of having to visit or even know about all these different markets, you can use a single place compare and contrast items on offer. It also makes it easier to find these markets in the first place!
Who Created Recon?
While we don't know the real identity of the person (or persons) behind Recon, it seems pretty clear that one "HugBunter" administrates the site. This is supposedly the same HugBunter behind "Dread" - a Reddit-style forum for users of the Dark Web to congregate.
Dread made the news in September of 2019 when HugBunter's dead man's switch was activated, but someone using that name has returned in the meantime, and Dread is still online. So as far as anyone knows, Recon comes from the same family of sites.
How Does One Access Recon?
Recon exists on the Tor network, so you'll need to visit the "reconponydonugup.onion" site using the Tor browser.
However, if you are curious to see it for yourself, don't just jump in using a Tor Browser copy. Be sure to properly protect yourself by at least using a VPN to hide your Tor access from the ISP.
Recommended: 7 Best No-Logs VPN Services in 2020
How Does Recon Work?
Recon uses several different methods to let users search listing and information across multiple markets. It uses historical market data as a part of the search resource, but the most powerful aspect of Recon is its API or application programmer interface.
Owners of darknet markets who want people to find products on their sites through Recon can choose to integrate the API with their site. Recon then gets regular updates from these sites to ensure the listings users find through Recon are up to date.
This is different from how a surface web search engine works, which crawls the public web for information and then lets you search it. Since Dark Web sites can't be crawled in this way, search engines like Recon are the only real way to discover or quickly search across various websites.
What Can You Buy on Recon?
Recon doesn't seem to be fundamentally different from other Dark Web market search tools. In other words, you can't buy anything from Recon directly. It only shows you the way to another market that has the products you're looking for.
It means there are plenty of illegal items of every description on offer. The most prominent of these Dark Web market items are drugs, but firearms and fake documents are also popular. If you want to know more about the sorts of things that are sold on the Dark Web, check out our article on the subject.
Of course, there are also plenty of intangible products. Information is always a hot commodity, and the Dark Web is a great place to buy and sell it. This can include stolen user information, the fruits of corporate espionage, or malware. If it's digital, only the imagination limits what's possible.
Not everything sold on these hidden markets is illegal. Some of it isn't even very interesting, actually.
The Information on Offer
Recon displays a wealth of information for every market that it lists. The specific information includes:
- The number of listing
- Market uptime
- Market mirror addresses
- Reviews & ratings
- PGP keys for private communications with vendors and markets
Recon lists markets that don't have any connection with them, but any market owner apparently can claim their profile page via their PGP keys. So when a profile is claimed, everyone can be fairly sure it's the real owner who has done so, despite the known problems with PGP.
Speaking of PGP keys, that seems to be the fastest way to find vendors in Recon. Since they all post their public PGP keys to allow people to contact them securely, Recon uses these keys as a quick lookup.
So if one already has the PGP key of a vendor you want, it's as simple as pasting it into the "Find a vendor" bar.
Is Recon Here to Stay?
While Dark Web markets get taken down regularly, these search engines seem to be a little more robust because they take a small cut after strictly acting as middlemen. Sure, when it comes to illegal goods, the middleman still shares in the guilt.
However, neither the buyers nor sellers know the true identity of the people behind Recon. As long as the technical protection remains in place and none of the humans in the loop fold, there's little authorities can actually do.
On the other hand, this also means it's extra risky to actually use these facilities considering that when they are taken over by the law, they turn into traps instead.
Either way, we can never recommend using the dark web to commit crimes of any kind, but it never hurts to know what's lurking in the internet's dark underbelly.