The Coronavirus Pandemic Forced Offline Drug Dealers To The Dark Web And Disrupted Its Economy


Authorities in numerous governments around the world have hunted down drug dealers and their operations for more than plenty of times.

The reasons are obvious: they often sell illegal drugs that involve narcotics, and can involve a global black market dedicated to the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of drugs that are prohibited by the laws. These kind of businesses are thriving, simply because the demand is high.

But since the novel 'COVID-19' coronavirus has been declared a pandemic, illegal drug trading is also affected, just like most other businesses out there.

Amid the coronavirus lockdowns, streets and venues are emptied. With people restricted to their own homes, sales of illegal drugs have slumped.

However, businesses on the dark web are experiencing quite the opposite.

Since the coronavirus has put countries in the world down to their knees, people have turned to the dark web to conduct businesses. From people trading malware, phishing kits, stolen credit cards and other online accounts, malicious actors were benefiting during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Drug-related product postings. (Credit: Sixgill)

And those people who are benefiting from the pandemic, also include dark web drug dealers.

According to a report by cybersecurity firm Sixgill, many offline dealers have flocked to the dark web amid the coronavirus lockdowns.

"The global economy has been battered by shifting demand, supply chain woes, and businesses put on hold. Does the same hold true for the dark web economy?"

"Obviously underground markets don’t report sales, but if product feedback — comments left on items for sale — is any indication, we’ve seen a significant rise in transactions starting in January 2020 and peaking on March 23, 2020 before declining throughout April as social distancing restrictions began to lift around the world."

In the past 12 months alone, "the supply of malware, phishing kits, and stolen accounts has been more or less steady. The supply of drugs, however, begins a clear rise in the early months of 2020, growing 495% between December and April," said Sixgill.

The dark web is a place that is filled with websites, forums, and other platforms that aren’t visible by search engines or regular web browsers.

Due to the fact that anonymity is the key in the dark web community, illegal markets and notorious businesses often happen down there.

In the report, Sixgill said that there were 4,154 items for sale on December 23, 2019. That number jumped to 22,445 items for sale on February 24, 2020.

And on April 27, 2020, that number again jumped high to 24,719 items for sale.

The report also detailed how supply of specific drugs grew during the same time period. For example, MDMA posts went up by 224%, cannabis increased by 555%, and cocaine grew by a staggering 1,000%.

While the dark web drug market doesn’t report sales, Sixgill calculated the performance of their businesses using product feedback, which is seen as a straightforward metric to get a sense of how sales lines up with the supply.

Mentions of bargains and discounts in drug product postings. (Credit: Sixgill)

The demand remains high, but the supply somehow surpassed it, making the former experience difficulties in catching up.

This happened not because of the actual response to oversupply, but also due to the reactions to consumers’ precarious economic situation during the economic freeze.

Sixgill found that both buyers and sellers fear that they would catch the COVID-19 disease, or get caught by police while making local deliveries. Illegal drug dealing is also experiencing some of the same challenges as any other business, like chain disruptions, delays in shipping, concerns surrounding sterilization of deliveries, and consumers hesitant to spend money on drugs under the threat of layoffs.

Because of this, Sixgill noted that the dark web's illicit drug market saw “historic levels of bargains and discounts.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has damaged many parts of the world's economy, across various industries and geographies. The global exodus of populations that went off the streets into their own homes has disrupted businesses and their supply chain, as well as the demand of the goods.

Illicit drug trade in particular, are also affected.

The dynamics in the drug trade on the dark web are similar to those on the legitimate online sectors. Like ordinary buyers of e-commerce platforms, dark web shoppers are also driven to online shopping due to fear of physical contact. They are also affected by anxious people living in an uncertain condition.

But still, the highlights here is that, criminal networks on the internet are always on the move to seek new ways for revenue.