Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: After the vaccines

Abstract

Early analyses revealed that dark web marketplaces (DWMs) started offering COVID-19 related products (e.g., masks and COVID-19 tests) as soon as the current pandemic started, when these goods were in shortage in the traditional economy. Here, we broaden the scope and depth of previous investigations by analysing 194 DWMs until July 2021, including the crucial period in which vaccines became available, and by considering the wider impact of the pandemic on DWMs. First, we focus on vaccines. We find 250 listings offering approved vaccines, like Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca, as well as vendors offering fabricated proofs of vaccination and COVID-19 passports. Second, we consider COVID-19 related products. We reveal that, as the regular economy has become able to satisfy the demand of these goods, DWMs have decreased their offer. Third, we analyse the profile of vendors of COVID-19 related products and vaccines. We find that most of them are specialized in a single type of listings and are willing to ship worldwide. Finally, we consider a broader set of listings simply mentioning COVID-19. Among 10,330 such listings, we show that recreational drugs are the most affected among traditional DWMs product, with COVID-19 mentions steadily increasing since March 2020. We anticipate that our effort is of interest to researchers, practitioners, and law enforcement agencies focused on the study and safeguard of public health.

Publication
Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: After the Vaccines