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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The reality is more complicated (and regulated)
The coronavirus pandemic has spawned reports of unregulated health products and fake cures being sold on the dark web. These generally include black market PPE, illicit medications such as the widely touted “miracle” drug chloroquine, and fake COVID-19 “cures” including blood supposedly from recovered coronavirus patients.
These dealings have yet again focused public attention on this little-understood section of the internet. Nearly 10 years because it started being used on an important scale, the dark web continues to be a lucrative safe haven for traders in a range of illegal goods and services, especially illicit drugs.
Black market trading on the dark web is carried out primarily through darknet marketplaces or cryptomarkets. These are anonymised trading platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers of a selection of illegal goods and services – similar to legitimate trading websites such as for example eBay.
So how do darknet marketplaces work? And just how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not just a free-for-all
There are currently more than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the globe have largely didn’t contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve one of the world’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Unlike popular belief, cryptomarkets aren’t the “lawless spaces” they’re often presented as in the news. Market prohibitions exist on all mainstream cryptomarkets. Universally prohibited goods and services include: hitman services, trafficked human organs and snuff movies.
Although cryptomarkets lie away from realm of state regulation, every one is initiated and maintained by a main administrator who, along with employees or associates, is in charge of the darkode Market – https://lomeit.tg/forums/users/newtonturney60/’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators are also ultimately responsible for determining so what can and can’t be sold on their cryptomarket. These decisions are most likely informed by:
the attitudes of the surrounding community comprising buyers and sellers
the extent of consumer demand and supply for certain products
the revenues a website makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that could be attracted from law enforcement in the trading of particularly dangerous illegal goods and services.
Experts delve to the dark web
A report from the Australian National University published the other day discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products on the market across several cryptomarkets, including supposed vaccines and antidotes.
While the analysis confirms some unscrupulous dark web traders are indeed exploiting the pandemic and seeking to defraud naïve customers, this information should be contextualised with several important caveats.
Firstly, the number of dodgy covid-related products available on the dark web is relatively small. According to the research, they account for about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming majority of products were those we are already familiar with – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the analysis centered on products listed available, these are likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the specific intention to defraud a customer.
Thus, the particular sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is probable minimal, at best.
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