The entire global economy has taken a massive hit from the raging COVID-19 pandemic – with consumer demand, supply chains and businesses taking a financial nosedive. As traditional markets continue to tank, the big question remains – how has the dark web ecosystem adapted to the pandemic?
Indeed, the current public health crisis has begotten wholesale damage and cause a global movement of people off the streets and into the confines of their homes. This aspect has begotten untold consequences for supply chain movements and corporate protocols within the illicit drug markets in particular.
The current realities reflect the fact that dynamics of the dark web economy mirror, to a very large extent, the events occurring within legitimate sectors. The same observations of anxious consumers operating in an uncertain economic ecosystem, supply chain disruptions and product distribution delays within conventional markets have become typical to darknet markets.
Importantly, the current circumstance has showed us just how much the internet matters to underground criminal networks in reference to the surge in dark web activity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A detailed 17-page report by the cybersecurity firm Sixgill managed to provide a clear elucidation of the dark web economy amid the coronavirus crisis. The cyber intelligence company studied the dark web by focusing on the frequency of vendor listings and buyer feedback in the time period between December 2019 and April 2020.
The research achieved interesting findings – in highlight, listings for illicit substances on dark web platforms surged by 495 percent during the study period as COVID-19-induced government restrictions prompted drug dealers to switch to alternative product distribution avenues.
According to the listings, Cannabis postings on darknet sites rose by 555 percent, while MDMA listings grew by a margin of 224 percent.
Point to note, cocaine scored the highest in terms of product listings on the dark web – it jumped by 1,000 percent over the course of the study (See Below).
A chart showing the increase in selected drug listings between December 2019 and April 2020 (Source: Sixgill)
The researchers inferred that the supply-side growth was the function of a mass shift from traditional street-level drug dealing to the dark web markets considering that the coronavirus-related restrictions removed dealers and buyers from public places and the streets.
Additionally, the research team observed a similarity between regular consumers and darknet shoppers, and established that it is possible that a majority of drug buyers shifted to online shopping in an effort to maintain social distancing.
A chart showing the sharp increase in online drug listings – to reflect the consumer shift from the streets to online platforms. (Source: Sixgill)
Away from illicit drugs, in the context of other dark web products and services, the study discovered that cybercriminal staples maintained stability between December 2019 and April 2020, which reinforced the premise that coronavirus-related government restrictions were squarely behind the sharp increase in darknet drug listings.
Further, the market dynamics within online markets convinced the researchers about a discernible growth in demand which, interestingly, did not match an increased supply of products. It is for this reason that the study detected the surge in promotions and “coronavirus sales” within darknet sites – drug prices seem to have fallen significantly to bargain levels.
Otherwise, the research acknowledged an important limitation, it was difficult for the researchers to evaluate the actual scale of sales that were made within the study period, considering that dark web platforms do not share such information on the public domain.
Considering that all conventional ecommerce sites have been severely affected by the coronavirus-related restrictions, dark web discussions have also indicated that buyers have since suffered slower delivery times – an aspect that has soiled the reputation of many vendors dealing with a rather cynical customer base.
However, although the complaints may be temporary, dark web markets will have a hard time satisfying the specific needs of their customers who are always sensitive to potential scammers.