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Beckley Foundation. [Beckley Foundation] Shopping for drugs on the internet. (30 Aug 2013)

External website: http://www.beckleyfoundation.org/2013/08/shopping-...

That more and more major high street stores are going online to increase their sales is no longer news but is a well-established fact. However, this trend is true not only for legal and legitimate businesses but for illegal ones as well. The Independent on Sunday reported that the illegal drug market has rapidly expanded with online sales using the “hidden web” and earning millions.

That more and more major high street stores are going online to increase their sales is no longer news but is a well-established fact. However, this trend is true not only for legal and legitimate businesses but for illegal ones as well. The Independent on Sunday reported that the illegal drug market has rapidly expanded with online sales using the “hidden web” and earning millions.

Although online drug sales are only a fraction of the multi-billion global drug market, they are never-the-less a rapidly expanding enterprise and it isn’t hard to see why. The Independent claims that high-grade cocaine with a purity of more than 80% can be purchased for £65 a gram over the internet. The charity DrugScope says the current rate for a gram in the UK is roughly £46 but at a greatly inferior quality. With top-quality drugs at street level prices only a click of a button away in the safety of one’s home, one can only imagine the money to be made in setting up online sites catering to these users.

One such site has been the Silk Road which earns millions in its sale of illegal drugs. In fact it has become so successful that other start-ups are trying to compete for customers by setting up their own sites for selling drugs and other illegal items in a cyber turf-war. One such start-up, Atlantis, has reported 500 sign-ups per day and has 50,000 registered users and expects to over-take the Silk Road within a year.These sites are on a sub-layer of the internet that normal search engines such as Google cannot find and hide the identity of both the users and the sellers. Atlantis has even developed an advertising campaign on YouTube. The Independent says Atlantis uses encrypted software, deals in cyber-currency and encourages sellers to vacuum-pack drugs to avoid detection by sniffer-dogs.

As crime has gone cyber so too have the police gone with their investigative methods. Peter Wood, the founder of First Base Technology, an ‘ethical’ hacking firm, reports that the police still use traditional methods for apprehending drug sellers, posing as legitimate customers and tricking the person into dealing with them so that they have access to the seller’s computer. Once a computer is identified the person owning the computer is apprehended and his/her computer seized.

The appeal for the drug sellers is immense. The global markets are at their fingertips promising a huge profit potential. As the police use more sophisticated methods of breaking into these networks, cyber-criminals develop ever more sophisticated methods of evading detection rendering police efforts ineffective. Some of these key players in the online drug trade are playing the long-game. A senior figure at Atlantis known as Heisenberg2.0 said, “Maybe when the world’s leaders are ready to give up the prohibition game we will be ready to come out of the shadows and help clean up the mess they have made” adding that for now, they were quite happy to continue operating outside the current legal system

This new development in the global drug trade can have a profound effect on whether the “war on drugs” becomes even less effective. Will this encourage a change in the policy towards drugs?

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