As Dark-Web Drug Trade Rebuilds and Gets Smarter, Authorities Will Need to Do the Same

Jun 18, 2019

Where there’s a market, there’s a way. That appears to be the approach dark web sites, which sell illegal drugs and prescription narcotics, takes.

Law enforcement agents in the United States and Europe recently have swept in and shut down online drug markets, including two major dark web sites, Wall Street Market and Valhalla, but after a few arrests and the dust settles, about 30 online illegal markets remain and new ones pop up every day.

On some sites, shoppers can buy everything from high-grade heroin and crack cocaine to the highly-addictive, prescription painkiller, OxyContin. The dark web also is considered as a rich source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which are often produced in China and are exponentially more potent than heroin.

Authorities are finding sellers, who use unique screen names and accept cryptocurrency that are both difficult to track, would rather take their chances selling drugs and earning from their comforts of their couches than fear arrest. In a nutshell, online drug havens are becoming as difficult, if not more, than those on the streets.

A Little History on Dark Web Drug Sales

Illegal online drug platforms have spiked and matured since the days of Silk Road, the pioneering dark web drug marketplace that got its start selling magic mushrooms in 2011.

Authorities thought shutting down Silk Road and arresting its founder in 2013 would scare other potential online drug dealers away. Instead, they upped their games by using browsers that hid their locations and accepting cryptocurrency, which is near impossible to track.

To fight back, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team in 2018. Europol created a similar taskforce. By the next year, authorities were able to take down quite a few dark net sites and make dozens of arrests.

What to Expect in the Future for Dark Web Drug Sites

Authorities believe their actions have slowed down sales, but believe it is likely only temporary.

In response, some dark web sites have stopped selling fentanyl to make them less attractive and vulnerable to authorities. They also have taken other steps to make it more difficult for law enforcement to target them. Newer sites claim they have figured out others’ flaw that allowed police to detect them.

Some have also considered moving away from large marketplaces and are opting to operate on a smaller scale by selling directly to customers through encrypted messaging systems. These systems are very difficult for authorities to crack.

In Conclusion

Like any market that is known for illegal activity, authorities will need to get more creative as criminals get more sophisticated to try and stop them.

As long as there is a market for illicit drugs, sellers will find ways to supply them. Though it appears that authorities have made progress on several fronts, new dark web markets have crept back in, indicating nothing has scared sellers from backing down. What happens next is unclear but few dozen arrests and market shutdowns won’t mean the end.

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