Drug Cartels shifting to Dark Web forums amidst lockdowns

Unable to sell illegal drugs on the streets because of lockdowns, a number of drug cartels are now moving to clandestine Dark Web forums to sell their wares, resulting in a 500% rise in listings for illegal drugs on underground forums.

According to Israeli cyber intelligence firm Sixgill, the supply of drugs via Dark Web marketplaces grew by 495% between December and April with the number of items for sale increasing from 4,154 on 23rd December to 24,719 items on 27th April.

The firm noted that the listings for illegal drugs on Dark Web platforms peaked on 23rd March this year but declined throughout April as social distancing restrictions began to lift around the world. However, even the Dark Web could not resolve issues in the illegal drugs market like problems with shipping and customers not willing to pay under the threat of layoffs and furloughs.

Despite such hindrances, drug cartels and sellers continued to list illegal drugs for sale on underground forums. Between 23rd December and 27th April, listings for Cannabis increased from 896 to 5,425, listings for MDMA grew from 551 to 1,786, and listings for Cocaine jumped from just 140 to 1,541.

However, the increase in the number of listings did not result in a proportionate rise in the number of purchases. Sixgill observed that because of a lack of demand, mentions of bargains and discounts grew tenfold in early 2020.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused nearly wholesale damage to the economy, across industries and geographies. The global exodus of populations off the streets and into their homes had wide-ranging ramifications for the supply chains and business protocols of the illicit drug trade in particular.

"The dynamics in the drug trade on the dark web mirrored those of legitimate online sectors. The same patterns of anxious consumers in an uncertain climate, supply chain disruptions, and shipping delays impacted supply, pricing, and customer service. It also highlights the reliance of criminal networks on the internet, and the increasing need to put our ear to the internet’s underground," the firm added.

Even though the Dark Web has not been traditionally favoured by drug cartels to sell illegal drugs, a number of "star" hackers have been found to be involved in the sale of drugs via dark web marketplaces in the past. In 2018, Gal Vallerius aka “OxyMonster” was sentenced to 20 years in US prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute drugs and to launder money on a dark web marketplace called Dream Market.

In May last year, law enforcement authorities in Europe also arrested two administrators of a website known as DeepDotWeb who earned millions in kickbacks by referring buyers of fentanyl, heroin, and other illegal goods to popular Dark Web marketplaces.

Using the website, the cyber criminals facilitated the sale of illegal drugs, firearms, malicious software, hacking tools, stolen financial information, payment cards and other illegal counterfeit goods on a number of Dark Web marketplaces. The criminals reportedly serviced hundreds of thousands of customers who were looking to purchase such goods discreetly.

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