How Big is the Dark Net’s Drug Market?

By August 3, 2017drug news

Looking at the sale of illicit drugs on the internet.

The dark net is a part of the Internet hidden by security and cryptography. It is partitioned off, so you can’t access it from a simple Google search. From a technology point of view, it is inherently harmless. But the way the dark net is set up, its architecture, it can hide the identities and activity of its users and thus it is extraordinary for the immoral and illegal. It has been found to be used for the selling of deadly drugs, stolen and fraudulent identification documents, counterfeit goods, computer hacking tools, firearms, even human trafficking.

The Justice Department announced in July the seizure of one dark net website, AlphaBay, the largest criminal marketplace on the Internet (1). At the time of the takedown, there were over 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals available for sale on the site. If you remember back in 2013, the predecessor to AlphaBay, Silk Road, was considered a major takedown with only 13,000 drug listings (2). Still, Silk Road was clearing roughly $300,000 a day in sales and estimated at $189 million over the course of its lifetime on the Internet (3). At a considerably larger size, AlphaBay’s sales were estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually (4).

For all of the press and the staggering numbers seen in these site closures, they are but a small slice of overall drug trafficking. And as these sites are shut down, the thousands of buyers and sellers of illegal drugs largely go uncaught.

Now let’s compare this to the drug economy offline. In 2005, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime calculated the global retail market for illicit drugs at $320 billion (5). If the drug economy grew at the same rate of with the rest of the world’s economy, with inflation today, that estimate is at over $650 billion (6). The pie chart above compares two of these dark net illicit drug markets (AlphaBay and Silk Road) to the overall illicit drug economy. While there are other dark net marketplaces, the total is still dwarfed by the illicit drug economy as a whole.

However, as insignificant as it may now seem in the global fight against illicit drugs and drug trafficking, this is a big deal as one class of drugs is sold most commonly online: synthetic opiates such as fentanyl and carfentanyl. More to come about the trafficking of fentanyl and carfentanyl soon.

  1. AlphaBay, the Largest Online ‘Dark Market,’ Shut Down.” The United States Department of Justice. N.p., 20 July 2017. Web. 02 Aug. 2017.
  2. Silk Road Successors.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 29 May 2015. Web. 02 Aug. 2017.
  3. Christin, Nicolas, and Kyle Soska. “Measuring the Longitudinal Evolution of the Online Anonymous Marketplace Ecosystem.” Carnegie Mellon University / Usenix, 2015. Web. 01 Aug. 2017.
  4. Forfeiture Complaint. US Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/982821/download
  5. Chawla, Sandeep, et al. “2005 World Drug Report Vol. 1.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2005. Web. 01 Aug. 2017.
  6. May, Channing. “Transnational Crime and the Developing World « Global Financial Integrity.” Global Financial Integrity, 27 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 Aug. 2017.