COVID-19: Monitoring the effects of the pandemic on illicit online trade

Lead Research Organisation: City, University of London
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Mathematical Sci

Abstract

The pandemic has reshaped the demand for goods and services worldwide. Economic stress, the public health emergency and disinformation-driven panic have pushed customers, and vendors, towards the shadow economy. In particular, Dark web marketplaces (DWMs), commercial websites easily accessible via free software like Tor, have acquired significant popularity. They accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to broker transactions often involving drugs, weapons, and other illicit goods. UK presence on DWMs is strong: As of April 6, 86% of COVID-19 related listings on DWMs would ship to UK and 45% were shipped from UK. This project will build an infrastructure to monitor dark web trading in COVID-19-related goods and services. First, we will monitor listings on DWMs to detect changes in types and prices of COVID-19-related goods and services (e.g., face masks, prescription drugs, scams). Second, we will analyse patterns of Bitcoin (or other cryptocurrency) transactions involving DWMs and their users to quantify policy-relevant changes in trading activity patterns and customer behaviour. The rapid evolution of the pandemic requires gathering and analysing critical data quickly, and a strong research effort to improve the current understanding of DWMs. Our interdisciplinary research team is perfectly equipped for this challenge. Live results shared in reports and a dedicate website will (i) uncover market demand and supply of critical goods and services, (ii) support policymakers' plans for their provision and (iii) assist and complement the UK's effort to combat disinformation about coronavirus, scams, and to counter panic-buying of counterfeit goods that could threat public health.

Publications

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Bracci A (2021) Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: The vaccines in SSRN Electronic Journal

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Bracci A (2021) Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: before the vaccine. in EPJ data science

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ElBahrawy A (2020) Collective dynamics of dark web marketplaces. in Scientific reports