Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: before the vaccine
Department of Mathematics, City, University of London, EC1V 0HB, London, UK
2 The Alan Turing Institute, British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW12DB, London, UK
3 Center for Cybersecurity (CCS), New York University Tandon School of Engineering, 11201, Brooklyn, NY, USA
4 Global Intelligence Team, Flashpoint, 10003, New York, NY, USA
5 Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, OX2 6ED, Oxford, UK
6 Department of Economics, University of Oxford, OX1 3UQ, Oxford, UK
7 Business School, City, University of London, EC1Y 8TZ, London, UK
8 UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies, University College London, 24105, London, UK
Accepted: 5 January 2021
Published online: 21 January 2021
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.
Key words: COVID-19 / Dark Web Marketplaces / Shadow economy / Bitcoin
© The Author(s) 2021
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.