Cracking The World Market Onion Code

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    The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The reality is more difficult (and regulated)

    The coronavirus pandemic has spawned reports of unregulated health products and fake cures being obsessed about the dark web. These include black darkode market PPE, illicit medications including 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 with this little-understood portion of the internet. Nearly a decade since it started being used on an important scale, the dark web continues to be 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’re anonymised trading platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers of a range of illegal goods and services – just like 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 higher than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the globe 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 have among the world’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.

    Contrary to 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 outside the realm of state regulation, each one of these is established and maintained by a central administrator who, along side employees or associates, is in charge of the market’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.

    Administrators are also ultimately in charge of determining so what can and can’t be sold on the cryptomarket. These decisions tend 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 into the dark web

    A report from the Australian National University published the other day looks at several hundred coronavirus-related products available across a dozen 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, these records should really be contextualised with several important caveats.

    Firstly, how many 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 most listed items. The overwhelming most products were those we’re already acquainted with – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.

    Also, while the analysis dedicated to products listed available, these are usually 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 probable minimal, at best.

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