Weapons of the Dark Web

The “dark web” is slowly moving into the lexicon of everyday Americans. Although most are familiar with the World Wide Web, few know that the majority of the internet exists below the surface. A multitude of illicit activities take place on the dark web and RAND took a closer look, specifically at the illicit sale of firearms, explosives, and ammunition.

By briefly monitoring several illicit dark web markets in September of 2016, researchers were able to get a glimpse into the number of potential sales. They found over 400 individual listings for firearms related sales on one market alone (AlphaBay Market), accounting for more than half of the 811 total listings found during the brief period of observation. Pistols were the most commonly listed items on the markets, accounting for 84% of the listings.

While the research shows potential for criminals and terrorists to obtain weapons easily and anonymously, they have their work cut out for them.

The US Department of Justice announced this morning that a coordinated international criminal investigation resulted in the closure of the two largest illegal dark marketplaces on the web. AlphaBay Market and Hansa Market both served as hubs of illegal narcotics, weapons, chemicals, stolen financial records, and other illicit materials sales. Users paid for their illegal purchases with various cryptocurrencies, such as BitCoin.

On June 20, 2017, the National Police of the Netherlands covertly took control of the Hansa Market, the second largest illicit market operating on the dark web.  On July 4, 2017, AlphaBay Market was taken down by the FBI, sending users into a panic. Vendors relying on AlphaBay to sell their illicit goods turned to Hansa Market, and directly into the hands of Dutch law enforcement. There are reportedly thousands of investigations opened up by collection on users  during the time period the Dutch were controlling Hansa Market.

Read the full report on illicit arms sales here on the HSDL. Non-registered readers may access it via RAND.