Coronavirus in darknet. New arrivals on black markets amid the pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, plenty of products supposed to protect you against COVID-19, or ease the course of the disease, or even heal you became available on the darknet (as well as on legitimate marketplaces). Because the shady segment of the global network is of utmost interest to hackers, I decided to examine the assortment of goods offered there and compare the prices on the darknet and in ‘regular’ stores.

Hazmat, gloves, and two gas masks

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the most popular category of anti-coronavirus products: 228 lots, including 102 unique ones. For instance, you can select from 36 types of masks: blue, black, white, synthetic, cotton, disposable, and washable ones. Frankly speaking, there is nothing special there, except for Hemp Black, a masterpiece created by the American company Ecofibre.

The mask is seamless and hypoallergenic; it withstands 25 wash cycles. Hemp Black is made of hemp fiber interspersed with copper and impregnated with the hemp flower extract. The metal prevents bacteria from multiplying, while the plant extract blocks odors. It’s unknown what substances are contained in the elixir. I have no doubt that the tetrahydrocannabinol content doesn’t exceed 0.3%; otherwise the product would be illegal in the USA. Too bad, Hemp Black is not suitable for recreational use…

Six types of protective hazmat suits are available for sale: from budget solutions (e.g. DuPont TY122S-XL-EACH with a hood and shoe covers) to the top-notch MIRA Safety HAZ-SUIT that protects against chemicals, microorganisms, and radiation. The Isolation Gowns section offers 16 different products. The gowns are made of polyester or polyurethane and can be washed several times. Unlike hazmat suites, they don’t protect your feet, neck, and head from liquids.

The darknet vendors offer 36 types of hand protection items: vinyl, nitrile, latex, rubber, and polyethylene ones. It’s necessary to specially mention Uxglove – 1.15-mm-thick vulcanized natural latex monsters. If you need to change the wiring at home, I would suggest dielectric gloves, for instance, ShuangAn that withstand up to 12,000 V. FORTEM nylon gloves with five levels of protection are the best choice for people who are afraid of accidentally cutting themselves.

It’s not a secret that masks don’t completely eliminate the risk to contract COVID-19. Therefore, if you need some really efficient respiratory protective equipment, you may want to try respirators and gas masks. Six types of respirators are offered on the darknet: ATTICA with charcoal filters, 3M 7501/37081 (AAD) with two filter cartridges, hipster-inspired UltraTac with an advanced aeration system, Safety Works SWX00318 with a sanitary pad, MSA 815452 for miners, and Honeywell North 7600 that completely covers the face and protects against particles of organic and inorganic origin. Only two gas mask models are available: Polish MP5 with the NATO FP-5 filter and French Surplus ARF-A with a drinking system and a voice diaphragm (it also meets the NATO standards by the way). Personally, I would prefer Surplus ARF-A.

Gadgets

The available gadgets include thermal scanners and COVID-19 tests. Six types of noncontact thermometers are sold on the darknet. The devices measure the amplitude of electromagnetic radiation from the tested person in the infrared range and then convert it into thermal radiation. A pistol thermometer is a device for wasteful and paranoid people who let guests into their house only after a pointless examination. Why pointless? First, the absence of fever does not mean that the person isn’t a vehicle of the disease. Second, to measure the temperature, you don’t have to buy a device for USD 20 or more: an ordinary thermometer is 100% suitable for this.

Shady dealers offer 13 types of coronavirus test kits. Rapid tests detect antibodies to COVID-19 in your blood. The devices detect two classes of globular proteins: IgM and IgG. If somebody’s blood contains the first class of antigens, it means that this person has recently contracted the infection. The detection of the second class of proteins indicates that the person has already recovered and developed a stable immunity against the coronavirus. The testing procedure is very easy: you drip the tested blood into a special hole, add a buffer liquid (supplied with the kit) to the second hole, and wait for some 20 minutes.

Cochrane, a British international charitable organization, claims that antibody tests performed one week after first symptoms only detect 30% of people who have COVID-19. Accuracy increases in week 2 with 70% detected, and is highest in week 3 (more than 90% detected). Many public hospitals offer free COVID-19 tests; therefore, for the sake of economy and efficiency, it’s better to contact a medical institution. You may need an express test only if clinics are inaccessible to you for some reason.

Wanna a panacea?

High quality… Approved by professionals… 100% safe… Effect guaranteed… Such slogans are frequently used by vendors selling coronavirus vaccines. In total, I found five different such drugs. Sellers claim that the COVID-19 vaccine has been invented and tested a long time ago, while the governments purposively hide the drug from citizens to spread panic. This marketing trick reinforces the worse fears of conspiracy theorists. One of the vendors allegedly has access to a secret laboratory, and offers ampoules with the tested antidote. No discounts are offered because drug is worth its weight in gold. Furthermore, some vendors even refuse to answer questions from potential buyers before the order is fully paid.

Dozens of pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines against COVID-19 and are currently conducting (or have already completed) the clinical trials. However, not a single medicine is available in drug stores yet. It’s quite possible that Russia will become the first state in the world to launch the mass vaccination. In September 2020, the medics will carry out a full-scale testing of a domestic drug called Sputnik V, and in October, everyone should be able to get vaccinated. The Chinese plan to start selling the vaccine in December, while the Italians, in January 2021. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that antiviruses offered on the darknet are placebos at best and breeding grounds for infections and/or toxic substances at worst.

Twenty-three dealers offer to buy blood, saliva, or plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus. Five vendors are selling plasma samples taken from donors who have allegedly been tested for infectious diseases. The remaining 18 vendors claim that they have recovered from COVID-19 and offer for sale their own blood or saliva. As you are aware, body fluids of patients who have recovered from the virus contain antibodies; so, intravenous injections of their saliva, plasma, or blood may produce the passive immunization effect. In theory, such an injection increases you resistance to COVID-19, but its effect lasts for a maximum of six weeks, while repeated passive vaccinations often cause complications and don’t stimulate the immunity.

Blood plasma can be kept at room temperature for no more than eight hours: it must be stored in a freezer at a temperature of -20°C. The dealers ship plasma samples by mail in vacuum packages without any built-in refrigerators. Without special treatment, blood and saliva decay very quickly and don’t withstand positive temperatures for more than a couple of hours. Shipping from a foreign country can take days. Even if you really believe that darknet vendors sell biological fluids of people who have actually recovered from coronavirus, the antibodies contained there will be destroyed even before they arrive at customs; so, such a ‘vaccination’ will be of no benefits to you.

Medicines

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, four antiviral drugs appeared at dark marketplaces:

  • hydroxychloroquine;
  • chloroquine;
  • favipiravir; and 
  • azithromycin.

warning

Neither the author nor Editorial Board can be held liable for any harm caused by the use of the drugs mentioned in this article. Remember that you make all decisions at your own peril and risk. If it’s possible to consult a doctor, this is the first thing you ought to do.

Hydroxychloroquine is probably the most acclaimed drug against the coronavirus. US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonar had taken it as a preventive measure. To test the drug’s effectiveness in preventing the COVID-19 infection, the University of Minnesota conducted a placebo-controlled randomized study involving 821 volunteers who had likely contacted with people infected with the coronavirus. The volunteers were divided into two groups: members of the first group were receiving placebos, while members of the second group were receiving hydroxychloroquine.

As a result, 11.8% of the volunteers who were receiving the medicine and 14.3% of the volunteers who were receiving placebo have contracted the coronavirus. The conclusion is obvious: the use of this drug doesn’t produce statistically significant results. The hope for hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the disease has also failed after the announcement that the drug doesn’t relieve the coronavirus symptoms.

Chloroquine, a close relative of hydroxychloroquine, turned out to be completely useless in the fight against COVID-19, too. According to the German Primate Center (DPZ) in Göttingen, the Charité in Berlin, and the University Hospital in Bonn, the drug does not suppress the ability of the virus to penetrate into lung cells. In the best case scenario, the medicine doesn’t affect the health of the person who has contracted the infection; In the worst case scenario, it aggravates the course of the disease.

The story of favipiravir is more interesting in comparison with the two above drugs. Clinical trials have shown that the drug accelerates the recovery of patients diagnosed with the moderate COVID-19 infection. The condition of 71.4% of patients receiving the medication improved as early as on the seventh day after the beginning of the symptoms. However, favipiravir had no effect on patients suffering from the severe COVID-19 disease.

The antibiotic azithromycin is another anti-coronavirus fake. The Americans have tested the drug and established that it neither suppresses the COVID-19 replication nor protects against inflammation caused by the infection. Furthermore, the simultaneous administration of azithromycin and chloroquine increases the mortality rate of coronavirus patients by 2-3%.

To summarize the above: favipiravir seems to be something that can help and is believed to be safe. The other three medicines are expensive placebos at best and harmful substances endangering the health and life of infected persons at worst.

Handbook of a COVID-19 fighter

Some enterprising vendor put up for sale a manual entitled “Corona Virus Covid19 Epidemic Survival Handbook Medical Physical Social Economic and Financial Guide.” The manual contains the following information:

  • coronavirus symptoms;
  • how to avoid the infection;
  • treatment methods;
  • measures taken by the authorities to combat the spread of COVID-19;
  • consequences of the epidemic; and 
  • how to prepare for a quarantine.

The darknet vendor asks USD 15 for this manual. Concurrently, a book called book “COVID-19: Simple Answers to Top Questions” can be downloaded from the Internet for free. The guide written by American scientists Vincent T. Covello and Randall N. Hyer covers all the essential topics related to the coronavirus. The manual first appeared on the darknet in April, while the free guide was written in July. Therefore, both books can be considered outdated by now.

How much?

The prices asked by the darknet vendors are pretty high. For instance, a simple disposable mask that costs 50 cents in a pharmacy is offered for USD 10, including delivery. On its official website, the above-mentioned Hemp Black is sold for USD 24.95, including free delivery throughout the USA. On shady marketplaces, it can be purchased for USD 50 plus USD 5 for shipping worldwide. Doubling the price is one of the best and oldest darknet traditions.

The cost of respirators ranges from USD 29 to USD 150. In stores, prices are much lower: from USD 2.5 to USD 7. Vinyl, latex, nitrile, and polyethylene gloves are sold only in packs of 100 pairs for USD 19-25. Their average price in legitimate retail outlets is USD 22. The cost of rubber and dielectric gloves from shadow dealers is at least four times higher than the price asked by their law-abiding competitors: USD 24 versus USD 6.

The MP5 gas mask is sold for USD 30; the Surplus ARF-A, for USD 25. The Polish gas mask is offered for USD 35. Surplus ARF-A turned out to be a rarity: I couldn’t find a single post about its sale in the CIS countries. On the darknet, a COVID-19 test costs USD 220; while in a Russian online store, its price is USD 44. Shadow vendors sell thermal scanners for USD 70, while Ozon.ru offers them for USD 27.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that vaccines are the most expensive coronavirus-related products. Prices of Chinese drugs vary in the range from USD 10,000 to USD 15,000, a Swedish vaccine costs €1,700, while the cheapest American medicine, only USD 300. 500 ml of plasma from recovered patients costs USD 10,500, while their blood and saliva are available for USD 1,000.

Hydroxychloroquine can be purchased on the darknet for USD 150; chloroquine, for USD 225; favipiravir, for USD 410; and azithromycin, for USD 30. Prices on these drugs in ‘regular’ pharmacies are much lower.

Who makes money on COVID-19?

The majority of dealers making money on the coronavirus hysteria are registered at international marketplaces. I counted a total of 114 vendors selling personal protection equipment, tests, vaccines, drugs, and guides. Out of them, 70 are Americans, 6 are Europeans, 3 are British, 2 are Australians, and the remaining 33 vendors haven’t provided their whereabouts.


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