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Qualitative research: Monitoring anonymous online drug marketplaces


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A presentation on Internet Research Ethics, giving examples of previous research undertaken

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Qualitative research: Monitoring anonymous online drug marketplaces

  1. 1. NEW PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES (NPS): BUILDING KNOWLEDGE AND EVIDENCE BASED TRAINING THROUGH RESEARCH Qualitative research: Monitoring anonymous online drug marketplaces Thursday 5th March 2015 Tim Bingham
  2. 2. • Historic background to the Hidden web drug markets • How the qualitative research was undertaken in previous studies • Ethical considerations • Practical o PGP Encryption o Accessing Tor Network o Accessing dark net websites and forums Utilising Social Media
  3. 3. INTERNET DRUG MARKETS • The ‘alt’ online newsgroup provided a forum for information sharing. Alt.drug and Alt.drugs.chemistry (created in 1994) • Discussions how to grow cannabis, manufacture and the synthesis of Drugs, this included a private messaging system • Illicit drugs have been bought and sold on the internet since it was first established. According to Markoff (2005)
  4. 4. • The Hive, which was established in 1997 introduced the integrated market to the online trade eventually shut down in 2004 http://thehivemwon6a5mp.onion/
  5. 5. • The goal of Onion Routing is not to provide anonymous communication. Parties are free to (and usually should) identify themselves within a message. But the use of a public network should not automatically give away the identities and locations of the communicating parties. For example, imagine a researcher who uses the World Wide Web to collect data from a variety of sources. Although each piece of information that he retrieves is publicly known, it may be possible for an outside observer to determine his sensitive interests by studying the patterns in his requests. Onion Routing makes it very difficult to match his HTTP requests to his site. • David. M Goldschlag, Michael G. Reed& Paul F. Syverson, ‘Hiding Routing Information, Workshop on Information Hiding, Cambridge, UK, 1996. • courses/CS600.424/course_papers/goldschlag96hiding.pdf
  6. 6. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE DRUGS AND THE HIDDEN WEB • • 2009 The drug store A Figment Of Your Imagination Binary Blue Stars Open Vendor Data Base Tor Browser launched 2002 Feb 2011 Silk Road
  7. 7. The ‘Deep Web’ is a secure and confidential communication lines by encryption of computer IP addresses using Tor anonymising software or web proxy to the Tor network ( ). There is a shift toward widespread global availability of all drugs which is evident in the recent online presence of drug marketplaces
  8. 8. The launch of Silk Road as a competing public drug site was a challenge to the viability of OVDB, and particularly as Silk Road received significant publicity and attention. Traffic to the site ‘soared’ and ‘demand for the virtual currency drove up the value of one bitcoin to more than $30’ within weeks of the article’s publication Norris & Moses (2011)
  9. 9. Silk Road Vendors Advertising Page
  10. 10. Runa Sandvik : The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Silk Road" at the 2014 Kaspersky Security Analyst
  11. 11. OCTOBER 2013
  12. 12. NOVEMBER 2013
  13. 13. • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2014 World Drug Report sets out in its first ever mention of the phenomenon, the hidden Dark Net drugs markets have ‘the potential to become a popular mode of trafficking in controlled substances in years to come
  14. 14. Where are we now in 2015 ?
  15. 15. http://2qrdpvonwwqnic7j.onion/index.php
  16. 16. SOLE VENDOR http://ra6falaruvgwbmpj.onion/
  17. 17. A DECENTRALISED MARKETPLACE 1. no one owns the network 2. platform for people to manage their own trade online 3. No Commission and No Fees
  18. 18. RESULTS OF THE SEIZURES • Volatility • Trust and increased suspicion • Vendors and buyers moved to other market places or underground
  19. 19. HARM REDUCTION Users and sellers alike can have the freedom to be open and express themselves in ways that are impossible in real life’. Provided a space where people could discuss drug safety, optimal dosing and harm reduction. It creates a community of individuals sharing their experiences and knowledge on harm reduction information in a non-judgemental environment where people felt safe to discuss drug related issues due to the anonymity of Tor. Matt Gleeson Stonetreeaus
  20. 20. • Relationships between vendors and consumers are based on cyber levels of trust and professionalism, and supported by ‘stealth modes’, user feedback and resolution modes. • ‘The advantage of Silkroad is your reputation is open to all. If you mess someone around its reflected in your feedback and ratings’. (Silk Road Vendor)
  21. 21. • Vendors on the market places able to offer higher quality products than those generally available on the street. • Online drug distribution removes many of the middlemen involved in conventional drug supply chains • Posted directly from producers to consumers. • Customer feedback plays a crucial role in regulating online drug markets
  22. 22. Previous Research
  23. 23. SILK ROAD’, THE VIRTUAL DRUG MARKETPLACE: A SINGLE CASE STUDY OF USER EXPERIENCES • Online researching of drug outcomes, particularly for new psychoactive substances was reported. • Relationships between vendors and consumers were described as based on cyber levels of trust and professionalism, and supported by ‘stealth modes’, user feedback and resolution modes. • The reality of his drug use was described as covert and solitary with psychonautic characteristics, which contrasted with his membership, participation and feelings of safety within the ‘Silk Road’ community. (parallel life).
  24. 24. SURFING THE SILK ROAD’: A STUDY OF USERS’ EXPERIENCES. VAN HOUT & BINGHAM (2013) • Majority of participants were male, in professional employment or in third level education. • Drug trajectories ranged from 18 months to 25 years, with favourite drugs including MDMA, 2C-B, mephedrone, nitrous oxide, ketamine, cannabis and cocaine. • Few reported prior experience of online drug sourcing. Reasons for utilizing ‘Silk Road‟ included curiosity, concerns for street drug quality and personal safety, variety of products, anonymous transactioning, and ease of product delivery. • Vendor selection appeared based on trust, speed of transaction, stealth modes and quality of product. Forums on the site provided user advice, trip reports, product and transaction reviews. Some users reported solitary drug use for psychonautic and introspective purposes. • Minority reported customs seizures, and in general a displacement away from traditional drug sourcing (street and closed markets) was described. Several reported intentions to commence vending on the site.
  25. 25. RESPONSIBLE VENDORS, INTELLIGENT CONSUMERS: SILK ROAD, THE ONLINE REVOLUTION IN DRUG TRADING • Vendors described themselves as 'intelligent and responsible' consumers of drugs. Decisions to commence vending operations on the site centred on simplicity in setting up vendor accounts, and opportunity to operate within a low risk, high traffic, high mark-up, secure and anonymous Deep Web infrastructure. • The embedded online culture of harm reduction ethos appealed to them in terms of the responsible vending and use of personally tested high quality products. The professional approach to running their Silk Road businesses and dedication to providing a quality service was characterised by professional advertising of quality products, professional communication and visibility on forum pages, speedy dispatch of slightly overweight products, competitive pricing, good stealth techniques and efforts to avoid customer disputes. • Vendors appeared content with a fairly constant buyer demand and described a relatively competitive market between small and big time market players. • Concerns were evident with regard to Bitcoin instability.
  26. 26. METHOD • Ethical Approval Granted. • Sought permission from Administrator. • Established credibility amongst the community who are naturally suspicious of any research. • I had to be visible and transparent – provided links to previous research. • Posted threads about the research. • Focused on the motives and not requiring personal or identifiable information
  27. 27. METHOD • Read discussions to further enhance knowledge and contributed to discussions where deemed appropriate • Keeping the thread alive allowing people the freedom to express their views • Provided a trusted and ‘secure email address • Vendors and buyers could use PGP • Dealing with trolls and threats • Working and gaining trust with the peers on the site • Used the same cyber name across all the platforms • TIME
  28. 28. • Due to the potential risk of Law Enforcement requiring the information  Ensured all communication was encrypted  Ensured that no identifiable information was kept  Email correspondence was deleted
  29. 29. ETHICS • Utilises the internet to collect data or information • Online interviews • Surveys • Threads posted on forums and responses • Private one to one interviews
  30. 30. RESEARCH ETHICS AND ETHICAL TREATMENT OF PERSONS • Principles of research ethics and ethical treatment of persons are contained in a number of documents  UN Declaration of Human Rights  Nuremberg Code • These policies include the fundamental rights of human dignity, autonomy, protection, safety and the minimisation of harms
  31. 31. • How are participants/authors approached by the researcher? • How will the data be stored is there potential for this data to be used at a later date ? • Will identifying information be stored with the data ? For example cyber names • How will stored data be unlinked from individuals (i.e IP addresses ) • What is the potential risk or harm might result from reuse and or distribution of the data .
  32. 32. • If data collected in the research has the potential to be linked back to an individual ? • How is the data being stored and how is sensitive data being secured ? • Does the storage have the potential to be hacked ?
  33. 33. • There is an ethical obligation by the researcher (s) to protect the participant or the authors of comments and threads • Researchers have a ‘duty of care’ to those they correspond with
  34. 34. CHALLENGES • A site may appear relatively stable but may change suddenly requiring a swift response from researcher(s). • Different cyber identities ? May enable the researcher to gain a wider access to the community HOWEVER  However is this ethical ?  If the community suspect Law Enforcement they will react to this  REMEMBER a lot has been learnt from the previous site seizures  Always remain Transparent
  36. 36. JABBER Download Pidgin Accounts > Manage Accounts > Add On the Basic tab, change the Protocol to XMPP. Type in a username. Domain: Type in a password Click the box at the bottom 'Create this new account on the server'
  37. 37. http://kingdomazsnvzfuq.onion/
  38. 38. THANK YOU • Tim Bingham • Email • Twitter @binghaminfo