Profiling the vendors of COVID-19 related product on the Darknet: an observational study

Valeria Catalani, Honor D. Townshend, Mariya Prilutskaya, Andres Roman-Urrestarazu, Robin van Kessel, Robert Chilcott, Hani Banayoti, Tim McSweeney, Ornella Corazza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background : In a time of unprecedented global change, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in demand of COVID-19 vaccines and related certifications. Mainly due to supply shortages, counterfeit vaccines, fake documentation, and alleged cures to illegal portfolios, have been offered on darkweb marketplaces (DWMs) with important public health consequences. We aimed to profile key DWMs and vendors by presenting some in-depth case studies. Methods A non-systematic search for COVID-19 products was performed across 118 DWMs. Level of activity, credibility, content, COVID-19 product listings, privacy protocols were among the features retrieved. Non- functional DWMs in open web fora and other open web sources were also considered for further analysis. Collected data refers to the period between January 2020 and October 2021. Results A total of 42 relevant listings sold by 24 vendors across eight DWMs were identified. Four of these markets were active and well-established at the time of the study with good levels of credibility. COVID-19 products were listed alongside other marketplace content. Vendors had a trusted profile, communicated in English language and accepted payments in cryptocurrencies (Monero or Bitcoin). Their geographical location included the USA, Asia and Europe. While COVID-19 related goods were mostly available for regional supply, other listings were also shipped worldwide. Interpretation Findings emerging from this study rise important questions about the health safety of certain DWMs activities and encourage the development of targeted interventions to overcome such new and rapidly expanding public health threats. Funding CovSaf, National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online (REPHRAIN), Commonwealth Fund.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100051
Number of pages20
JournalEmerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions and Health
Early online date22 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Mar 2023


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