“Our goal is to become known as the most consistent, reliable supplier of cocaine in the Aussie DNM scene,” the online listing reads. “It has been requested from a number of customers that we offer a more affordable option of cocaine so we have decided to bring out VALUE QUALITY cocaine.”
This listing is one of thousands on the darknet; a hidden corner of the internet that is beyond the reach of many users.
It is called the darknet because its sites are not accessible through normal search engines or web browsers. Websites are only accessible using particular software programs, many of which are designed to mask anonymity. This makes it a haven for organised crime groups and black-marketeers looking to sell illicit goods.
Once you know how to use this software, you can begin to browse the different sites.
A lot of the commercial darknet is made up of websites that look like online auctions. There are dozens of these auction sites – that look very similar to Amazon or Craigslist – but instead of iPads and phones they sell guns, drugs and fake IDs.
As with eBay, users can leave feedback. One happy customer for a drug purchase writes: “10/10, mad sniff for the price.”
Diving into these listings is like walking into a dark back alley full of shady characters. You can buy almost anything. One user who sells fake IDs in New South Wales says: “I have been making IDs for many many years. I know what to do.
“Every ID I make have all security features on it. HOLO, UV, SCAN, CLEAR WINDOWS, MICROPRINT.”
Others sell bank accounts. One vendor is offering a Commonwealth Bank account with anywhere between a couple of thousand dollars and $100,000 in balance.
They are sophisticated. This user warns his buyers to make sure that they “always use an Australian IP address and build a cookie history with your machine”. The object of this is to try to evade the bank’s suspicious activity checks, which monitor IP addresses. “Don’t just dive in,” they say.
And then of course there are the drugs. In fact, in Australia it’s mostly drugs. You can buy anything from meth to MDMA, mushrooms to cocaine.
It is surprisingly civilised. The sellers have their own rules but they still live for positive reviews from their users.
The Medicare machine, which allows users to purchase Australians’ Medicare information, stood out among these sellers. It was offering something more unusual and disturbing; information that appears to have originated with the Australian government directly. The seller appeared to be suggesting that they were exploiting a live vulnerability in a government system, which could suggest a health agency has been compromised.
Could this be real, or was it just a scam? The only way to know was to request some data.
So I purchased some bitcoin – a common cryptocurrency used on the darknet – and bought my own Medicare patient details. Initially I thought it hadn’t worked because the seller was a little slow.
I chased them up and, after a few days, they came through. To sweeten the deal and entice me to give them a good review, they offered me an extra Medicare username – for any Australian – free of charge.
“Sorry man. Give me another mark and ill do it free just cos of the wait,” they wrote.
It was a generous offer, but I declined.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010