The COVID-19 pandemic has been marked by cases involving the sale of counterfeit coronavirus remedies.
Observers have noted the existence of COVID-19 vaccine listings throughout the dark web, even as criminals look to cash into the fear and uncertainty that has accompanied the global public health crisis.
The Good News
In latest events, development of the COVID-19 vaccine has brought hope to a world that had been brought to a standstill by an invisible behemoth. By using genetic sequences, BioNTech and Pfizer have managed to package pieces of RNA code resembling the COVID virus and conduct successful human tests.
Technically, the RNA elements of the vaccine are absorbed by a host human body to direct its cell replication mechanism to manufacture the much-needed spike protein particles. Once detected by the human immune system, the antibody production machinery swings into action thus protecting the human body from the harmful effects of the virus.
Point to note, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work in the same way.
The Bad News
The global headlines announcing the availability of coronavirus vaccines, including plans for mass administration of the drugs via international healthcare systems, instigated keen interest and expectation across the world.
Consequently, events following discovery of the COVID-19 vaccine have been accompanied by a noticeable occurrence of vaccine sales across the dark web – it appears that darknet actors are looking to exploit the current demand for the much-awaited silver bullet against the pandemic.
According to the Check Point Blog by cyber intelligence firm Check Point Research (CPR), experts found a cascade of dark web posts advertising the sale of “coronavirus vaccines” and “coronavirus remedies”.
The blog highlighted a number of specific examples, including a dark web advert for a coronavirus vaccine for $250. The listing claimed that the drug would enable the buyer to “say bye bye to COVID-19” without an authentic assurance that vaccine even works.
In addition, CPR researchers pointed out that the darknet sellers are only accepting payments in Bitcoin – expectedly, in order to avoid being tracked by law enforcement agencies. The fact that the vendors are looking to erase any possible trace to potential transactions adds to the doubt that the coronavirus vaccines are genuine.
Further, CPR experts are reported to have contacted a vendor who offered to supply a COVID-19 vaccine at a price tag of 0.01 BTC (an equivalent of $300). The seller claimed that the particular vaccine was supposed to be administered in 14 doses for maximum drug efficacy.
Point to note, the above information is in sharp contrast to official accounts, which specify that a majority of COVID-19 vaccines should be administered in 2 doses per person – each shot must be spread over a three-week period.
An Early Warning from Europol
The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation issued an early warning notification to warn its member states of impending darknet criminal activity that would seek to profit off the COVID-19 vaccine development wave.
According to the report, organized criminal actors have since reacted swiftly to news of the vaccine discovery to adapt its methodologies to the global pandemic.
Europol predicted the increase in dark web advertisements looking to sell fake COVID-19 vaccines, and highlighted the use of use of brands belonging to genuine pharmaceutical organizations to dupe buyers – especially those belonging to companies that were already in the final stages of vaccine testing.
The main aim of the early warning was to enhance law enforcement vigilance across EU countries, third-party nations and entities concerning the expected entry of criminal activity into the vaccine value chain.
The warning urged EU member states to share any information to target the threats as soon as they appear.