Cracking the Cryptomarket: How to Disrupt Drug-Dealing on the Darknet

Research Into Illicit Opioid Markets Suggests Buyer Trust More Important Than Seller Price

Researchers from Ohio State University have completed what they report as the first study of the network structure of an encrypted online drug distribution network, examining patterns of behavior between buyers and sellers of illicit opioids. They report that first-time buyers on the so-called “darknet” were primarily concerned with trust in a prospective seller—including protecting the buyer’s identity—rather than the price of the purchase. This fact could be useful in guiding law enforcement response to the drug dealing marketplace, although with much lesser effect on the behavior of dedicated repeat buyers. The findings were presented last weekend at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, and were published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

The researchers collected data on transactions between 57 sellers and 706 buyers on one drug distribution market, termed the “Cryptomarket” that could be accessed only through Tor, software that permits anonymously conducted communications and transactions. They found that most buyers tended to stick with a seller they identified as trustworthy; only 30% of repeat purchasers sought out new sellers. This fact points to a weakness in the market that could be exploited by law enforcement, the authors write. “If you eliminate several large sellers, all their buyers are stranded without a seller on the market that they have used before,” commented lead author Scott Duxbury, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State. The role of trust in selection of sellers may provide an entry point for taking out key sellers, Duxbury continued. “If officials can find a way to flood a network with bad evaluations when it is first starting, that will make it difficult for buyers to make informed decisions. That could stop markets when they are just beginning.”

Read more about the research findings. 

The journal abstract may be read here.

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