The black market for hackers is continuing to grow as they increasingly turn to the “darknet” to access tools, services and the spoils of the attacks while averting law enforcement, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

“Hacking used to be an activity that was mainly carried out by individuals working alone, but over the last 15 years the world of hacking has become more organized and reliable,” said Lillian Ablon, lead author of the study and an information systems analyst at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “In certain respects, cybercrime can be more lucrative and easier to carry out than the illegal drug trade.”

The researchers pointed as proof to the breach of retail giant Target in December 2013 when data from 40 million credit cards and 70 million users accounts were stolen. Within days, that data appeared on black market websites.

They attributed, in part, the growth in cybercrime to the sophisticated and specialized markets that freely deal in hacker tools and their outcomes. They pointed specifically to the availability of exploit kits, botnets, hacking for hire and the spoils of the criminal endeavors.

They noted that while law enforcement had increased its ability to take down some markets, hackers were outpacing these efforts and likely would continue to stay ahead of law enforcement.

Hackers will do this by moving to the darknet, which subsequently would restrict access to these black markets, the report said. Hackers also will heighten the use of crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, provide greater anonymity capabilities in malware and pay more attention to encryption and protect their communications and transactions.  However, the report said that while initial access was more difficult, once in there was a very low barrier to participate and profit.

The report noted that while experts agreed that the black market would continue to grow, they disagreed on whom would be the most affected by the growth. Whether it would be large or small businesses or individuals, which types of attacks would be the most common and what products or spoils of the attacks would be on the rise.

RAND researchers conducted more than two-dozen interviews with cybersecurity and related experts, including academics, security researchers, news reporters, security vendors and law enforcement officials.

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