Online Black Market for Illegal Drugs is Booming

Online Black Market for Illegal Drugs is Booming

In the age of the Internet, illegal drug sellers have found a new way of distribution. Avoiding street traffic, violence, and face-to-face sales, distributors and buyers can keep their anonymity, purchase from a wide selection of substances, and have the substances delivered safely straight to them.

Law enforcement is having a difficult time tracking down and cracking this new era of drug distribution. One website that has confounded the law is the "Silk Road," somewhat of a Craigslist that sells multiple items, but mostly illegal or controlled drugs.

Each month nearly $2 million worth of illegal drugs are distributed through the Silk Road website and sales have more than doubled since February.

Demand Keeps the Site Running

Nicolas Christin, Carnegie Mellon computer security professor and author of the report, says that the numbers of sellers and buyers are booming on the website. He found a way to monitor the website and gather statistics for the last eight months. Christin says that it’s simply a business of supply and demand, and he has seen demands only rising.

Christin found a 97.8 percent customer satisfaction rate in those who used the website. People like the personal safety and anonymity of buying online. No one knows them and they don’t have to worry about who they will encounter face-to-face. As more customers appear, the website’s operators are making millions. Christin estimates that most operators make nearly $150,000 a month from commissions.

No Stopping the Sales

Sales through the Silk Road seem almost invincible to stop, but law enforcement agencies are still working on it. Christin says the system seems to be working for many reasons.

  • Tor Network– Silk Road can only be accessed from the Tor Network, which can keep hidden its server and user locations.
  • Bitcoins– Buyers purchase the drugs with bitcoins, a type of digital payment that is difficult to trace.
  • Costs to Track and Prosecute-While the Silk Road sees sales of more than $20 million a year, it isn’t a large enough percentage of the $300 billion sales worldwide for law enforcement to tackle the immense task of finding the anonymous buyers and sellers.
  • Demand through the website keeps increasing and customer satisfaction is high.

A Weak Link in Currency

While the untraceable bitcoins give an advantage to buyers and sellers, they are the weakest link that Christin has found in the Silk Road drug trade. The value of bitcoins changes dramatically, from as much as $32 dollars one month to $2.50 the next. The instability of the value of the bitcoin makes buyers more hesitant.

Most buyers realize that the bitcoin fluctuates, but Christin believes that if the bitcoin were to become completely unstable that drug sales through the Silk Road would decrease.

While stopping the sale of drugs through the Silk Road seems nearly impossible, law enforcement agencies have not completely given up the challenge to find those who are distributing illegal drugs. Christin’s studies have opened a window into the world mostly unseen and often unknown.

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