Online drug marketplaces on the "dark web" have begun to resemble traditional organised crime, and Australian drug dealers are the most prevalent users of this system per capita than any other nationality, writes SMH reporter Phoebe Moloney.
According to the latest findings from NDARC’s Drug Trends project, there has been an emergence in extortion, server attacks and conflict over digital territory between online marketplaces and third parties over the past 12 months.
In February 2015, Evolution, the largest marketplace on the dark web at that time, suddenly shutdown with moderators suspected of taking an estimated $12 million of retailer and buyer money being processed through Evolution's transaction system.
NDARC research officer Joe Van Buskirk said that while "exit scams" such as Evolution's are common in the dark web's history, extortion by third parties began to emerge only last year.
"Third parties are coming on to marketplaces and making a digital threat to take down the marketplace temporarily, they continue these attacks until the marketplace pays them money. They also blackmail moderators with identifying information, and extort money out of them," he said.
A bout of server attacks early last year made many marketplaces inaccessible to retailers and buyers. While marketplaces have stabilised in the past six months, Van Buskirk suspects extortion is still taking place but is "being managed differently." He said it is difficult to identify who third-party extortionists might be.
"It is similar to an organised crime approach that happens in real world crime networks. But really, it could be anyone who has a good knowledge of technology," he said.
Unlike the original Silk Road, which banned the sale of stolen credit cards and weapons, Mr Van Buskirk said large dark web marketplaces have expanded their sales beyond illicit substances.
"As more people see how much money can be made, more opportunistic methods are being used. And that can be seen in the range of products too," he said.
This is an excerpt of an article that was published in The Sydney Morning Herald. Click here to read the full story.