Drugs & The Internet: Cryptomarket (Dark Web Market) Trading
Thu, 20 Jun 2019 || By Anaq Duanaiko

The drug trade is illegal in most countries since most people assume the status of drugs are banned because of its risks to human’s health, which might end to end (death). The discourse of drug illegality then perpetuated by the media and kept as a norm.[1] Understandably, drugs carry risks, different drugs carries different risks, and different doses give different effects.[2] The trade of drugs will not be ‘that’ illegal if it is adequately regulated and are not abused by the people.[3] As an ‘illegal’ substance, the way of trading it would be unlawful. Smuggling drugs could be a way, but it is still illegal, so, how does this substance survive in existence?

Since financial technology came, an increase in scholarly attention to the growing number of online trading for goods and services are known as cryptomarkets (dark web Market).[4] Cryptomarkets have the same look and feel as most surface webs, or ‘clear webs,’ online marketplaces that are commercialized such as eBay and Amazon, and they allow their customers to search and compare products and vendors. What differentiates these markets from established transparent online marketplaces, however, is that they offer a very anonymous trade ecosystem. Cryptomarkets creates a range of strategies to hide the identities of their participants or users then make transactions anonymous, and conceal the physical locations of servers to remains untracked.

This cryptomarkets connect buyers and sellers on trading. The anonymity of marketplace users is guaranteed by the Tor (The Onion Router) network and digital currencies used for financial transactions (e.g., Bitcoin).[5] These dark online marketplaces enable participants (buyers and sellers) of illicit drugs to interact in a relatively safe environment of trading away from the law enforcement agents. Although the situation has changed, and many other markets have opened, closed, and abandoned, the information gathered around the first and, at the time, the largest cryptomarket provides unique and invaluable insights.

As discussed in the previous paragraphs, two primary and essential technologies gave birth to these dark cryptomarkets. The first and obvious factor is the anonymity of the networks, which allow users to browse the web without revealing their location, and which also disguise where a site’s servers are located. This will enable cryptomarkets to sell illegal products in an open fashion such as most online stores (but dark) while remaining “safe” from law enforcement. The second is the technology that deals with the financial side of this dark market and ensures that online transactions can be completed with a substantial degree of anonymity. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that have been inspired by it are used to purchase items rather than using “bank accounts” or online wallets, both of which can be easily linked to a user’s identity.

Cryptomarkets use several different pieces of technology to ensure their anonymity of the ecosystem. This means the use of bitcoin by cryptomarkets is mainly regarding on the anonymity of the financial transactions; message encryption for communicating securely without getting bugged; and other forms of security for keeping sensitive information hidden and untracked. This anonymous and suspicious transactions then bring the curiosity of law enforcement agents to dig deeper into the world of this dark trade.

From an international perspective, until now to the law enforcement perspective, the urgency has focused its efforts in fighting the drug trade over the cryptomarkets by dismantling websites that offer drugs for an anonymous sale and on apprehending buyers with a higher than average turnover.[6] The assumption that stood out the most is that the site is necessary as a trading platform and is difficult to replace because of the inoculating requirements. The perception also triggered on letting the authorities to take down websites, which may remove the anonymity of buyers and sellers, and it will then make the marketplace less attractive to use and lose their anonymous way of branding. In conclusion, drug trade through the dark web is still illegal and seen as a problem in society. Dark web participants and law enforcement agents are still battling against each other by pulling up strategies that never meet its end.

Editor: Janitra Haryanto

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[1] Nutt, D. (2015). Why are drugs illegal? You asked Google – here’s the answer. The Guardian (Online). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/28/why-are-drugs-illegal-google-answer [Accessed on: June, 7th 2019]

[2] Miron, K. (2014). Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.). The Week (Online). Available at: https://theweek.com/articles/445005/why-all-drugs-should-legal-yes-even-heroin [Accessed on: June, 8th 2019]

[3] ibid.

[4] Barratt, M. J., & Aldridge, J. (2016). Everything you always wanted to know about drug cryptomarkets (but were afraid to ask). International Journal of Drug Policy, 35, 1–6.

[5] Aldridge, J. (2016). Cryptomarkets and the future of illicit drug markets. 10.2810/324608.

[6] ibid.