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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 like 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 on this little-understood area of the internet. Nearly 10 years because it started being applied to an important scale, the dark web remains a lucrative safe haven for traders in a selection of illegal goods and services, especially illicit drugs.
Black market trading on the dark web is carried out primarily through darknet marketplaces or cryptomarkets. They are anonymised trading platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers of a variety of illegal goods and services – similar to legitimate trading websites such as for example eBay.
So how do darknet marketplaces work? And how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not a free-for-all
There are still greater than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities all over the world market onion – https://www.realtimeinternational.com.au/forums/topic/darkode-market-experiment-good-or-bad/ have largely failed to contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve among 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 beyond your realm of state regulation, every one is established and maintained by a central administrator who, along with employees or associates, is responsible for the market’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators will also be ultimately responsible for determining so what can and can’t be sold on their cryptomarket. These decisions are likely informed by:
the attitudes of the surrounding community comprising buyers and sellers
the extent of consumer demand and supply for many products
the revenues a site 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 written report from the Australian National University published last week talks about several hundred coronavirus-related products available across several cryptomarkets, including supposed vaccines and antidotes.
While the research confirms some unscrupulous dark web traders are indeed exploiting the pandemic and seeking to defraud naïve customers, this information must certanly be contextualised with a few important caveats.
Firstly, the amount of dodgy covid-related products on the market on the dark web is relatively small. According to the research, they take into account about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming majority of products were those we’re already familiar with – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the research dedicated to products listed for sale, these are likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the precise 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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