Skip Page Header

Home > Drug-related cybercrime.

Guiney, Ciara (2018) Drug-related cybercrime. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 66, Summer 2018, pp. 24-25.

PDF (Drugnet 66)

In April 2018, An Garda Síochána (AGS) hosted the fifth annual meeting of the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Expert Working Group on Drug-Related Cybercrime in Dublin Castle. The Pompidou Group is the only European multidisciplinary intergovernmental body that provides a drug policy cooperation platform on drug-related cybercrime issues. The meeting brought together a multidisciplinary network of specialists and agencies that are directly involved in the fight against drug-related crime in Ireland, including AGS, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), and also in Europe, including the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol. A number of the topics covered are outlined below.


State of play

Internet, darknet and cryptocurrencies

This session covered drug-related cryptomarkets and the manner in which they are monitored. In 2017, two leading online marketplaces were taken down: AlphaBay, which was targeted as part of Operation Bayonet, and Hansa, which was taken over and decrypted by Dutch law enforcement agencies.


Non-English language darknet markets

The author of an EMCDDA study on the darknet explained that two-thirds of transactions on the darknet were drug related.1 There are several global English markets, and some non-English markets that are restricted geographically. The role played by national customs agencies and the influence of traditional markets and traditional physical drug markets on these newer online markets were examined.


Tackling darknet criminality

Online trade was viewed as a major threat in Europol’s Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) and Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) 2017. Despite this, significant knowledge gaps were identified. Potential responses included monitoring, seizures and taking down markets using specialised darknet investigation teams and cyberpatrol actions. It was anticipated that more darknet markets will emerge and that they may replace or otherwise significantly impact traditional drug markets.


Undercover and trust

Money laundering using bitcoin

One presentation described a money-laundering investigation that used bitcoin transactions. The benefits and concerns of using undercover agents were highlighted. The presenter emphasised the importance of using undercover agents, advanced technology and classical investigative techniques in tandem. Using this approach ensured that the process and all individuals involved could be identified.


Comparing drug cryptomarkets

This session included a presentation on a study that systematically measured structures and trends on the darknet marketplace AlphaBay.1 Data were gathered between September 2015 and August 2016. The results indicated that 2,188 vendors offered 11,925 drug items that resulted in USD 94 million sales in the drugs section. Cocaine-, cannabis-, heroin-, and ecstasy-type products accounted for approximately 64% of the sales. The main countries of origin were the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany. Only 5% of those selling drugs earned greater than $200,000, accounting for 53% of total revenue reported; and 58% of those selling drugs earned below $10,000, which accounted for 3.5% of the total revenue. The author concluded that further research was necessary to examine the interaction between traditional and darknet drug markets.1



Presentations highlighted the main problems that arose when attempting to seize cryptocurrencies. The importance of understanding the purpose of a bitcoin transaction in the blockchain system was emphasised. Law enforcement agencies need to understand the use of concurring currencies as part of a blockchain system, how to recognise and seize cryptocurrencies, and how to access support from technical experts.


Cybercrime teams

Presenters provided an overview of policies and activities that should be considered when setting up a cybercrime team. For example, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has an anti-drug mandate aimed at addressing threats to security and stability because of drug-related activities. The importance of OSCE-supported training was emphasised, as it provided law enforcement officers that do not have an IT specialism with an opportunity to learn about criminality on the internet, dark web, dark markets, Tor browser and virtual currencies. Officers also learn online investigative skills and encryption and anonymity techniques. An example of a unit that drew on simple methods and open source tools that are freely available was provided.


Medical counterfeits and internet

The HPRA, who are responsible for regulating medicines, medical devices and other health products in Ireland, highlighted the work of Operation Pangea, which is an international operation that aims to find, disrupt and take down illegal suppliers of medicines and medical devices online. A multiagency international approach was highlighted as the most effective use of available resources. Moreover, this approach demonstrated to offenders that agencies will work together to end illegal activities. An overview was also provided of existing investigative practices used by the HPRA to find individuals dealing medicines online, actions that were taken, and issues encountered.



The meeting of the Pompidou Expert Working Group on Drug-Related Cybercrime at Dublin Castle provided a platform for interesting, extensive, and in-depth discussion of current policies and practices, and the lessons learned from existing and past operations. The main points that emerged consistently during the two-day meeting were in order to succeed in the battle against drug-related cybercrime, it was essential that there was greater collaboration and sharing of information among those working in this area at a national, European and global level. Secondly, due to the continued advancements and evolving nature of the internet and darknet and how it is used, ongoing professional development was viewed as vital to ensure that law enforcement officers had the necessary skillset to enable them to continue to tackle drug-related cybercrime.

1 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol (2017) Drugs and the darknet: perspectives for enforcement, research and policy. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

2 Tzanetakis M (2018) Comparing cryptomarkets for drugs. A characterisation of sellers and buyers over time. International Journal of Drug Policy, 56: 176–186.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 66, Summer 2018
September 2018
Page Range
pp. 24-25
Health Research Board
Issue 66, Summer 2018

Repository Staff Only: item control page