In its two years of operation, the online marketplace Silk Road raked in 1.2 billion dollars in revenue and amassed an estimated 200,000 registered users – a success story that would be any start-up’s dream.
But the site was shut down by the FBI last October amid charges that it was essentially the Amazon.com of illegal drugs, shedding light on the increasing sophistication of a cyber drug trade that offers both buyers and dealers high-tech anonymity.
In its World Drug Report 2014 released last week, the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) warns that illicit online drug sales will pose unique challenges for law enforcement.
While the Internet continues to be used as a means of drug trafficking and illicit trade in precursor chemicals, use of the so-called “dark net” has been growing. The “dark net” constitutes a virtual marketplace, which is inaccessible by web search, and where it is difficult for law enforcement authorities to identify website owners and users, as their identities remain hidden by means of sophisticated concealment methods. That makes the “dark net” a safe haven for buyers and sellers of illicit drugs, who trade principally in a digital currency (Bitcoin).
While the overall proportion of drug transactions that take place in the “dark net” is unclear, the value of transactions,as well as the range of drugs available, appears to be growing.
The dismantling of one prominent “dark net” site, the “Silk Road”, uncovered that the site had approximately $1.2 billion worth of total revenue from two to five years of operations. There is evidence of a niche market on the “dark net” for new psychoactive substances as well as for high-quality cannabis, heroin, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and cocaine. Finally, the proliferation of new psychoactive substances continues to pose a challenge, with the number of new psychoactive substances (348 such substances in December 2013, up from 251 in July 2012) clearly exceeding the number of psychoactive substances controlled at the international level (234 substances).
A contact told me
2014 is going to be another year that the dark net will develop and the open internet is there. People in other countries are operating on other servers throughout the world and the supply is wholesale at the stage it’s a huge challenge for Law Enforcement”
Professor . David Hetu recently said “The new markets that have replaced Silk Road can now encrypt all communications and use advanced techniques to launder the bitcoins used in transactions.
While there are no reliable statistics on how many people are buying drugs on the Internet, the variety available and purchased on the “dark net” appears to be diverse and growing.
Because purchases and sales through the “dark net” pose unique challenges for law enforcement and presents a niche market for high-quality drugs and new psychoactive substances, if the past trend continues, it has the potential to become a popular mode of trafficking in controlled substances in years to come.