A total of 645 darknet market listings of novel coronavirus-related products were identified by researchers of Australia National University’s Cybercrime Observatory in a new statistical bulletin that examined the scope and scale of online sales for such items amid the global pandemic.
The investigative report, commissioned by the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Serious and Organized Crime Research Laboratory and published on April 30, focused on 20 “omnibus darknet markets” found to be active on April 3.
A survey of the sites returned results for COVID-19-related products on 12, or 60%, of the total 20 markets in question. The remaining eight sites did not yield any related results, aside from ads promoting irrelevant items in “coronavirus sales” and ransomware and malware vendors advertising “COVID-19 related social engineering scripts.”
The release detailed that 222 of the 645 darknet listings for novel coronavirus-related products were unique across the 12 markets. Researchers highlighted that three markets identified in the bulletin accounted for 85% of the total unique listings.
The total estimated value of all unique listings was about $237,000. Furthermore, the findings showed only “a small proportion of vendors accounted for most listings.”
“We undertook no purchases and the veracity of products on offer could not be verified. Information on purchases was not available,” researchers wrote in the bulletin.
Information on each listing was documented in the bulletin, with personal protective equipment accounting for around half of the items identified. One-third of the COVID-19-related products were “antiviral or repurposed medicines,” and “supposed vaccines, tests and diagnostic instruments each accounted for nearly 10 percent of listings.”
One of the “supposed vaccines” marketed by online criminals involves shipments of what is said to be the blood of recovered novel coronavirus patients. Recently, countries around the world, such as the US, Russia, Turkey and India, have launched COVID-19 treatments trials using convalescent plasma - the plasma obtained from someone who has, in this case, recovered from the novel coronavirus.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, it is possible the COVID-19 antibodies found in convalescent plasma “may be able to be used to help others fight off the disease.”
One advertised “cure” for the novel coronavirus was priced at around $16,500 on the darknet.
"The word I think is passive vaccination, where the blood plasma of a recovered COVID-19 patient is harvested for the antibodies and that is then used to inject into someone who may be at risk of COVID-19," lead researcher Rod Broadhurst told Australian public broadcaster ABC News.
“The idea of any kind of black market is that there will be some people who may be prepared to be jumping ahead of the queue, if you like, and taking a punt on a vaccine that’s undergoing trial.”