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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The truth is more difficult (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 once more focused public attention with this little-understood area of the internet. Nearly a decade as it started being used on a significant scale, the dark web remains 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 variety of illegal goods and services – just like legitimate trading websites such as for example eBay.
So how can 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 greater than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the world market onion – https://www.frvmuskie.com/forum2/users/steveingalls20/ have largely failed to contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the globe 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 are not 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, each one is initiated and maintained by a central administrator who, along with employees or associates, is accountable for the market’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators will also be ultimately in charge of 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 niche site makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that may be attracted from police force in the trading of particularly dangerous illegal goods and services.
Experts delve in to the dark web
A written report from the Australian National University published last week looks at several hundred coronavirus-related products on the market across a dozen cryptomarkets, including supposed vaccines and antidotes.
While the study confirms some unscrupulous dark web traders are indeed exploiting the pandemic and seeking to defraud naïve customers, these details should be contextualised with a couple of important caveats.
Firstly, the amount of dodgy covid-related products for sale on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they account fully for about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming most of products were those we’re already acquainted with – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the analysis focused on products listed on the market, these are most likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the specific intention to defraud a customer.
Thus, the specific sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is likely minimal, at best.
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