Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: before the vaccine

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the demand for goods and services worldwide. The combination of a public health emergency, economic distress, and misinformation-driven panic have pushed customers and vendors towards the shadow economy. In particular, dark web marketplaces (DWMs), commercial websites accessible via free software, have gained significant popularity. Here, we analyse 851,199 listings extracted from 30 DWMs between January 1, 2020 and November 16, 2020. We identify 788 listings directly related to COVID-19 products and monitor the temporal evolution of product categories including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medicines (e.g., hydroxyclorochine), and medical frauds. Finally, we compare trends in their temporal evolution with variations in public attention, as measured by Twitter posts and Wikipedia page visits. We reveal how the online shadow economy has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight the importance of a continuous monitoring of DWMs, especially now that real vaccines are available and in short supply. We anticipate our analysis will be of interest both to researchers and public agencies focused on the protection of public health.

Publication
Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: before the vaccine