Darknet vendors are selling what they claim to be the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients, promising prospective buyers “a life immunity against coronavirus”.
In a report released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology, researchers from Australia National University (ANU) revealed that cybercriminals are exploiting the pandemic by peddling hundreds of COVID-19 related products on at least 20 different darknet markets. These products include alleged vaccines, repurposed medicines, diagnostic tests, personal protective equipment (PPE) and, perhaps most troublingly, the “plasma” of patients who were previously infected with the virus.
VICE can confirm that, at the time of publishing, at least 19 such products were available for sale on at least one popular underground marketplace: some selling for as much as $21,600 AUD per litre of blood. All of these products were allegedly sourced from doctors around the world, and available for postage to international buyers via a distributor in Sweden.
According to Rod Broadhurst, the lead researcher of the ANU study, it's understood that buyers are expected to inject the blood as a way of inoculating themselves against COVID-19.
"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," he told the ABC.
The research team conducted their surveys of darknet markets over the course of a single day on April 3, 2020. Of all the coronavirus-related products they found, PPE was the most readily available—most of which was thought to have been stolen from factories, warehouses, and stores—followed by purported “cures” for the disease such as antimalarial drugs and alleged animal trial vaccines. Most (61 percent) were being shipped out of the United States, followed by Europe (6 percent), the UK (2.6 percent), and Australia (0.5 percent).
While some cybercriminals are freely exploiting and profiteering from coronavirus panic, however, certain darknet markets are cracking down on the practice for ethical reasons. Monopoly, a popular underground marketplace, recently banned the listing of COVID-19 related products, stating that: “You do not, under any circumstances use COVID-19 as a marketing tool. No magical cures, no silly fucking mask selling, toilet paper selling. None of that bullshit. We have class here”.
The ANU researchers concluded that, while the availability of COVID-19 related products on darknet markets is relatively insignificant compared to the overwhelming availability of other contraband, “the presence of fraudulent or untested vaccines and medicines warrants closer attention.
“Indeed, the underground sale of vaccines, real or not, is the key risk presented by darknet sales of COVID-19 products,” they added.