Dark Web Drug Trade Unfazed by Law Enforcement Crackdowns

September 3, 2015

When Silk Road was taken down in 2013, the Dark Web took a big hit, but it was only a few months before black marketers found alternate means to sell their wares, including illegal drugs.  The Dark Web provides an anonymous and often secure means to purchase everything from heroin to prescription narcotics with, apparently, few worries about the threat of prosecution.  Wired explains that “Crackdowns Haven’t Stopped The Dark Web’s $100M Yearly Drug Sale,” proving that if there is a demand, the Internet will provide a means for illegal sales.

In an effort to determine if the Dark Web have grown to declined, Carnegie Mellon researchers Nicolas Cristin and Kyle Soska studied thirty-five Dark Web markets from 2013 to January 2015.  They discovered that the Dark Web markets are no longer explosively growing, but the market has remained stable fluctuating from $100 million to $180 million a year.

The researchers concluded that the Dark Web market is able to survive any “economic” shifts, including law enforcement crackdowns:

“More surprising, perhaps, is that the Dark Web economy roughly maintains that sales volume even after major disasters like thefts, scams, takedowns, and arrests. According to the Carnegie Mellon data, the market quickly recovered after the Silk Road 2 market lost millions of dollars of users’ bitcoins in an apparent hack or theft. Even law enforcement operations that remove entire marketplaces, as in last year’s purge of half a dozen sites in the Europol/FBI investigation known as Operation Onymous, haven’t dropped the market under $100 million in sales per year.”

Cristin and Soska’s study is the most comprehensive to measure the size and trajectory of the Dark Web’s drug market.  Their study ended prematurely, because two Web sites grew so big that the researchers’ software wasn’t able to track the content.  Their study showed that most Dark Web vendors are using more encryption tools, they make profits less $1000, and they are mostly selling MDMA and marijuana.

Soska and Cristin also argue that the Dark Web drug trade decreases violence in the retail drug trade, i.e. it keeps the transactions digital than having there be more violence on the streets.  They urge law enforcement officials to rethink shutting down the Dark Web markets, because it does not seem to have any effect.

Whitney Grace, September 3, 2015
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


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