The rise of Dark Web drugs market in India : Part 2

KEY THEMES FROM INDIAN DRUGS MARKET

Reliance GCS
Sep 21, 2018 · 11 min read

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PART: 1 THE RISE OF DARK WEB DRUGS MARKET IN INDIA

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Globalisation and Technology: Accelerating Change in the Indian Drugs Trade

Technology: Criminal groups are quick to identify, and exploit opportunities provided by easy and cheap access to information and the Internet as a social and commercial medium.

The Internet has been influential in the drug business, providing perceived anonymity for technology-savvy consumers on dark web marketplaces, while making it difficult for law enforcement intervention. Around the world, law enforcement authorities have been hindered in their efforts to crack down on the trade because of the ‘close’ nature of the dark web.

Since 2010, when the year-old ‘Adamflowers’ marketplace moved onto the dark web and re-branded as ‘The Farmer’s Market’, the first major dark web marketplace for drugs emerged. There are now around 50 online marketplaces (cryptomarkets) on the dark web. Below is a comparison chart for some of the top established drug markets on the dark web.

Top Dark Web markets comparison chart.

Accessing Drug Markets Through the Dark Web: Illicit shopping on various dark web markets is performed in extreme anonymity and most of these websites use referral URLs, meaning it is only accessible if one can obtain the proper URL from someone or from somewhere. These are special URLs ending with .onion’ domain, which means the market is using Tor Hidden Service which only works over TOR browser (e.g. alphabaywyjrktqn.onion).

Cryptocurrency: Bitcoin has been the de facto currency of the dark web, since the pioneering marketplace Silk Road, the ‘Amazon of drugs’, was established in 2011. Bitcoin’s anonymity is a powerful tool for financing crimes. Virtual money can keep shady transactions secret.

The paradox of cryptocurrency is that its associated data creates a forensic trail that can suddenly make someone’s entire financial history public. As a result, criminals also have evolved more sophisticated methods to use Bitcoin such as, Bitcoin “mixing” services like Tumbler. The basic idea is to protect the anonymity of transactions by swapping and moving around Bitcoin stashes of people. The forensic trail shows the money going in, from paper currency to cryptocurrency, but then the trail goes cold because it is impossible to know which Bitcoins belong to who at the other end.

While purchasing the Bitcoins, for the sake of Operations Security (OPSEC), vendors tend to perform the following procedure:

Wallet A (Coinbase/Circle Wallet) > Wallet B (any standard BTC wallet) > Tumbler (BitBlender, Helix, etc.) > Electrum Wallet on Tails OS > Dark web market

But even mixing has weaknesses that forensic investigators can exploit. The merit of Bitcoin, from an investigator’s point of view, is that the associated blockchain records the entire past transaction history. But then again, the new generation of OPSEC cautious criminals leverages various anonymous currency wallets to evade any kind of digital traces by exchanging several cryptocurrencies.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) Signature: Within dark web markets, where privacy is the foremost priority, vendors and buyers use PGP technology as a validation mechanism to avoid any kind of fraud. PGP, an encryption standard, is frequently used to encrypt and decrypt messages on the dark web. These PGP-signed messages are also being used by various international drug vendors to authenticate their trusted re-sellers.

Example: GammaGoblin, renowned for his super high-quality Voidrelam LSD tabs, is an eminent international drugs supplier on dark web. To prove the authenticity of his drugs, being resold across the world (and also in India), GammaGoblin provides PGP-signed authentication to his reliable re-sellers (below image).

PGP-signed message from GammaGoblin to an Indian re-seller.

Countries Involved: Dark Web cryptomarkets appeared to be dominated by vendors from the U.S., Australia, Canada and Western Europe. Vendors who indicated they are operating from the U.S. had the highest market share of drugs, closely followed by the U.K. and Australia.

Drug Types on Dark Web Markets: According to the Global Drug Survey, respondents most commonly obtained drugs like Cannabis, Ecstasy, MDMA over the dark web in 2017; these drugs are typically associated with recreational or ‘party’ use. The report also highlighted MDMA as the most-bought drug globally on the dark web, with 49% of those having used the drug bought it on the dark web. During our research, a similar trend was observed across the Indian drugs market scene on the Dark Web. However, Ketamine was having higher sales.

03-year Trends — Drugs purchased on the dark web, by type of drug. (Source: Global Drug Survey 2017)

Quality of Drugs: Drugs on the dark web tend to be of a more consistent quality and high-potency. It is a competitive market like Amazon, as a result of which product quality is better than it is offline, and one can buy a variety of boutique drugs and niche variants of MDMA that are unlikely to be found offline. There is better accessibility online, minus the safety risks of obtaining drugs by hanging around street corners. Also, drugs obtained over the dark web are acknowledged to be pure, with less chances of adulteration.

New Substances: In some cases, new substances are used as temporary replacements for illicit drugs and they may also displace — either temporarily or more permanently — illicit drugs. For example, sometimes, Fentanyl is used to fill the gap in heroin availability.

Some new substances also seem to pose a challenge as a group, such as the synthetic cannabinoids, also known as Designer Drugs. In this case, suppliers care less about a specific substance and more about mimicking the pharmacological effects of Cannabis. Each synthetic cannabinoid is disposable, which means, as soon as a substance is controlled by law enforcements, ‘legal’ synthetic replacement products can be on sale.

Drugs entrepreneurs have developed sophisticated and aggressive marketing techniques related to new substances. This includes the development of distinct but overlapping markets such as ‘legal highs’, ‘research chemicals’ and ‘dietary supplements’.

Dark Web Drugs Market of India: Increasingly Specialised and Interconnected

With every police crack-down, the marketplace operators, vendors, and buyers learn from the mistakes of others and find new ways to evade arrest.

Buyer Profile: Both vendors and buyers appeared to be young well-educated males fluent in English, entrepreneurial and have strong IT-skills.

The price of party drugs shoots up in December because of huge spurt in demand.

A growing number of young professionals, seemingly workaholics who need extra energy and concentration to work for hours on end, insist that taking small doses of psychedelic drugs (Stimulant drugs) makes them perform better.

A disturbing trend is students, particularly from top private schools, using LSD. Usage appears to increase ahead of exams or quarterly tests. Young boys and girls turn to such short cuts to outperform their classmates.

Workers from countries like Singapore, China and Malaysia, are also seen as a supply-chain opportunity for cartels, mostly within south Indian states. According to a civil contractor from Amaravati (AP), “The Chinese and South East Asian nationals are considered the best concrete layers in the world, who work non-stop and are known to work with drugs.”

The majority of buyers seem to be recreational drug users, who have used drugs previously. They are attracted to the dark web markets to purchase drugs because of a perceived increase in safety, improved quality and variety, and ease and speed of delivery.

Buyers tend to base their purchases on;

Some drugs are also being used instrumentally, to enable the user to stay alert longer, drive long distances, enhance sexual behaviour or mitigate the effects of other substances.

Vendor Profile: Vendors seem to be professional drug dealers with close ties to production, who consider Internet sales as an additional revenue stream.

It is now common for criminals involved with the drug market to diversify across multiple drugs and to form alliances across geographical boundaries. Some vendors have also creatively adjusted their behaviour to avoid detection, such as changes in shipping practices.

Single Vendor Concept: Foreign single-vendor markets have emerged on the ‘dark web’, i.e. web shops that are run by one vendor only.

GammaGoblin’s Pushing Taboo: A single-vendor marketplace.

Among the international drug suppliers, the single-vendor ‘GammaGoblin’ (GG) appeared to be well-known among Indian drug dealers. ‘Pushing Taboo’ is the personal marketplace run by GammaGoblin who has been vending from marketplaces such as Silk Road v1 and v2, Sheep Marketplace, Black Market Reloaded, Evolution, Agora, Middle Earth, and Black Bank.

Single-vendor markets flourish because the centralized marketplaces are not stable, and risk being shut down by law enforcement agencies or its admins performing an Exit Scam[1]. For this reason, GammaGoblin provides discounted prices when purchasing from Pushing Taboo.

Indian Dark Web Community: All the individuals on various drugs related social media forums are strictly required to follow a number of clearly mentioned rules to ensure the privacy of the fellow drugs community. All the forums are directly monitored by a few veterans called moderators. Violating a rule can lead to deletion of a particular post or sometimes permanent ban from the forum.

People use social aggregation websites to create drug forums to discuss use, addiction, and rehabilitation.

Some of the rules are as below;

  • DON’T POST PERSONAL INFORMATION: Posting personal information about other users or witch hunting will lead to a ban from the forum.
  • NO SOURCING: It includes questions like ‘Which vendor has best weed?’, ‘Which vendor ships to India?’, ‘How many days did it take from Weed-Vendor?’, ‘Has anyone ordered from LSD-Vendor?’, ‘Has anyone ordered International’, ‘Shipping time from UK to India?’, etc. Sourcing is not only limited to these questions and all form of general sourcing is frowned upon here.
  • STRICTLY NO DIRECT DEALS: It is against the site’s ToS and it will lead to a site-wide ban.
  • DO NOT SHILL: Shilling is when you promote a product or service while you are secretly benefiting by doing so. Done through fake accounts. Will lead to a ban.
  • RESPECT VENDOR PRIVACY: Read vendor’s terms and conditions. Do not post stealth details. If they do not want to be named, don’t. Strikes will result in a ban.
  • NO FIREARMS: No threads/discussion related to guns/firearms/weapons sale/purchase, etc.

These forums also provide a comprehensive guide for a newbie on how to securely place an order on dark web markets and what things to be considered regarding the OPSEC.

There is also a guideline for finding and selecting a drop, an alternative address, vacant/abandoned houses or sometimes flats which have letter boxes installed on the ground floor, through which one can receive his/her “stash” without having a direct link to their actual address.


CURRENT TRENDS WITHIN INDIAN DRUGS MARKET

Social Media — New Digital Underground

Drug use is simultaneously being glamorized and normalized on social media, with posts by both friends and celebrity icons featuring high profile substances like alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. Customers are increasingly buying products off Instagram, Grindr, Tinder, Whisper, Wickr, and more. There are indisputable benefits to app-based dealings, which include safety and greater visibility. Street-level drug dealers are more likely to get busted than those who deliver to customers in their homes and offices. Nowadays, if a smartphone app is social and location-based, one can find a dealer nearby.

In the new, app-based drug economy, there is no reliable method for either party to establish a positive reputation. Similar to ordinary e-commerce, there are obstacles in ascertaining the authenticity of sellers and buyers on social media. In conversations with dealers and buyers, a trend emerges among the stories of transactions growing even smoother.

Indian local drug dealers are using an encrypted messaging app, known as Wickr, to set up meetings and subvert authorities.

Wickr, a US-based software company, says it does not store users’ messages or metadata.

Wickr messages are encrypted and can be erased by the sender once they have been read. The messages are also wiped from Wickr’s servers, leaving few evidences. The company’s law enforcement guidelines say it can provide some information to US authorities under subpoena, but not the actual messages sent between users. Wickr is one of the phenomena that has arisen from the growth of the cyber security industry itself and is attracting a lot of venture capital.

Global Drugs Market on Instagram (Source: drugabuse.com)

Demonstrating over a decade of use and popularity that’s only on the upswing, it is unlikely that social media will decline any time soon. And as long as social media makes an impact on the culture landscape, it’s highly probable that illegal drug use will play a prominent role.

Sophisticated Shipping Practices

A diverse range of methods is used to transport illicit drugs within India and outside, including air couriers on commercial flights, commercial air freight, fast parcels and postal services, and private yachts and aircraft. Maritime transport is associated with larger consignments, with even small boats capable of transporting considerable quantities.

Recent interceptions of some couriers parcelled through private courier companies like DHL and Aramex, have shown that more and more local dealers are diverting themselves towards various other options like, non-tracked EMS courier. EMS is an international postal Express Mail Service, for documents and merchandise, offered by postal operators of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), an inter-governmental organization. We also observed some local vendors preferring LBC Express, a courier company based in the Philippines, for shipping their stash to South East Asia.

There’s more danger to people buying drugs on dark web than to those selling them, considering most criminals won’t be mailing packages with a return address.

Some vendors use X-Ray proof bags with a decoy, while shipping to foreign countries, to circumvent the Customs. On a drug related chat forum, one popular local vendor recently commented about his experience with the Customs at airport, saying, “Have never had an order of 2oz (56.7g) caught, but all of our 4oz (113.4g) orders have been caught.”

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PART: 3 INDIAN PRESENCE ON DREAM MARKET

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[1] Exit Scam: An Exit Scam is a confidence trick where an established (usually illegal) business, e.g. a seller of drugs, stops shipping orders while continuing to receive payment for new orders. Exit scams can be a tempting alternative to a non-fraudulent shutdown for illegal operations, if the operation was going to shut down anyway for other reasons.

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