By: Jenna Bouley,

In the modern era, most people are familiar with the World Wide Web because they use it every day from running searches to reading the news. However, beneath the surface web exists a much darker place on the Internet, the Dark Web. The Dark Web refers to “a collection of websites that exist on an encrypted network and cannot be found by using traditional search engines or visited by using traditional browsers.”[1] Many people use the Dark Web for its ability to hide one’s identity and activity online.[2] In addition to hiding one’s identity the Dark Web has been used for a much more sinister purpose, buying and selling illicit drugs. [3]

The illicit drug trade done on the Dark Web accounts for over $100 million dollars in sales a year, and as it evolves new methods are developed to combat government crackdowns.[4] According to Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor and Dark Web-watcher, Nicolas Cristin, the Dark Web does anywhere between $300,00 and $500,000 in sales per day.[5] While this may not seem like a lot of money compared to other drug schemes what the Dark Web has that most others do not is a quick recovery time. This means that even after major takedowns the market still maintains a stable rate of sales. Law enforcement agencies can remove entire marketplace with no impact on the $100 millions done in sales per year.[6] This principle was demonstrated when Operation Onymous removed half a dozen sites from the Dark Web in 2014.[7] Operation Onymous captured fully half of the top market sites, which included Silk Road 2, Agora, Evolution, Pandora, Andromeda, and BlueSky.[8] However, Agora, Evolution and Andromeda remained online and had the ability to provide the drugs to the market when its competitors shut down.[9]

This quick rehabilitation time of illicit sites on the Dark Web becomes even more concerning when considering the current opioid crisis. According to law enforcement, a growing number of arrests and overdoses are the result of drugs being bought online.[10] Online sales through the Dark Web have allowed powerful synthetic opioids to be distributed throughout the country through packages sent through the mail.[11] The major problem with sales through the Dark Web is that buyers can visit sites anonymously and make purchases with virtual currencies like Bitcoin.[12] For example, a few flakes of fentanyl can be deadly and is easily sent in the mail.[13] This thought becomes even more concerning when considering that “enough fentanyl to get nearly 50,000 people high can fit in a standard first-class envelope.”[14] However, regardless of the seemingly endless amounts of illicit sellers on the Dark Web law enforcement does not seem dissuaded.

In July of 2017, American and European authorities worked together to shut down AlphaBay and Hansa Market, which were two of the largest online black markets.[15] AlphaBay went down first and as a result its users flocked to its competitor Hansa Market.[16] However, when Hansa Market was shutdown something odd occurred, users became nervous. Typically, users just move onto the next illicit market, but this shut down caused users to panic and alert each other not to place anymore orders for certain drugs.[17] While it appears the market recovered from this latest shutdown, large shutdowns do appear to have an impact on the market.[18] While the target of these investigations are usually the sellers the key to shutting down these market for good might actually be in discouraging buyers.[19] If no one is buying the products than the markets will shut down on their own because there is no profit. Although, cracking down on sellers is an important aspect of ridding the market of illicit drugs dissuading buyers is also an important piece of shutting down these markets for good.


[1] Matt Egan, What is the Dark Web, What is the Deep Web, and How Can you Access It?, TechAdvisor, (Oct. 10, 2017),, (Oct 11, 2017).

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] Andy Greenberg, Crackdowns Haven’t Stopped the Dark Web’s $100M Yearly Drug Sales, WIRED, (Aug. 12, 2015),, (Oct 11, 2017).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] See id.

[8] Andy Greenberg, Global Web Crackdown Arrests 17, Seizes Hundreds of Dark Net Domains, WIRED, (Nov. 07, 2014),, (Oct 11, 2017).

[9] See id.

[10] Nathaniel Popper, Opioid Dealers Embrace the Dark Web to Send Deadly Drugs by Mail, The New York Times, (Jun. 10, 2017),, (Oct 11, 2017).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Nathaniel Popper and Rebecca R. Ruiz, 2 Leading Online Black Markets Are Shut Down by Authorities, The New York Times, (Jul. 20, 2017),, (Oct. 11, 2017).

[16] See id.

[17] See id.

[18] See Leo Kelion, Dark web markets boom after AlphaBay market and Hansa busts, British Broadcasting Corporation, (Aug. 1, 2017),, (Oct. 11, 2017).

[19] See id.

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