The dark web and instant messaging services such as Telegram are being rampantly used for drug trafficking, the India Future Foundation (IFF) said in its recently released report.
Drug trafficking is a highly organized and structured criminal enterprise that generates billions of dollars in profits every year. The parties involved in the trade have deep pockets and use them to transport large quantities of drugs over long distances. They take advantage of people who are compelled or addicted to drugs, thereby creating a thriving industry that is now widely acknowledged as a form of organized crime.
The dark web, a hidden part of the internet, accessible through specific software like Tor, has become a fertile ground for such illegal activities due to its anonymity and encryption features. The IFF’s report highlights the convergence of the dark web and Telegram as a new challenge for law enforcement agencies combating drug trafficking.
The report delves into the history of drug trafficking on the dark web, with focus on the notorious Silk Road, an early dark web marketplace that facilitated the trade of illegal goods, primarily drugs. Despite the apprehension of Silk Road’s founder Ross Ulbricht, the dark web drug market continued to evolve.
According to the study report, the researchers found various marketplaces over the dark web such as The Dark Market (offers Banana Kush hash, pills, ketamine injections and weed products), The Peoples Drug Store (offers heroin and cocaine, euphoria-inducing ecstasy) and Black Market (offers LSD, the transforming DMT Drugs, and pure white Xanax bars and MDMA pills).
Users of the dark web may access these online markets which function similarly to e-commerce platforms and feature reviews, ratings and customer support, while the usage of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoins in these markets promotes transaction anonymity. For example, if someone wants to buy 18mg of Methylphenidate and 50mg of Heroin, they need to pay 0.00026 bitcoin (equivalent to $7) and 0.00205 bitcoin (equivalent to $55), respectively.
Meanwhile, according to the report, Telegram, with its end-to-end encryption and secret chats, has emerged as another preferred platform for drug dealers to communicate and coordinate transactions.
Telegram’s user base includes several groups and channels dedicated to the sale and distribution of drugs. These communities exist in the application’s shadows and usually need unique invitation links or connections to access. They provide a place for drug vendors to showcase their commodities, negotiate deals with consumers, and conduct business.
The platform’s anonymity and encrypted nature have made it difficult for law enforcement agencies to intercept and decode conversations, hindering efforts to dismantle drug trafficking networks. The report reveals conversations with drug dealers on Telegram, shedding light on their modus operandi and the widespread use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins for transactions.
About this report, Kanishk Gaur, a cybersecurity expert and one of the researchers, said: “The Dark Web has long been associated with various forms of illegal activities. Our recent investigations have revealed a significant surge in drug trafficking operations being conducted via this platform in India.”
“Our research has identified a growing nexus between these Dark Web operations and mainstream messaging platforms, particularly Telegram. Telegram’s end-to-end encryption and the ability to create private, unsearchable groups have made it a preferred tool for these illicit networks. Our findings indicate that these groups are using Telegram as a means to communicate, negotiate, and even conduct transactions, effectively turning a tool designed for privacy and security into a facilitator of illegal activities,” he added.
According to Gaur, this finding is troubling as it highlights the increased complexity of drug trafficking networks and their ability to leverage technology for their operations. He also stated that this has also raised major concerns about technology firms’ roles and duties in preventing their platforms from being abused in this manner.
IFF in its report emphasizes the need for collaboration among law enforcement, tech companies, and social media platforms to combat drug trafficking on the dark web and Telegram effectively. Stricter regulations, improved monitoring, and awareness campaigns are recommended to address the causes and promote online safety.