AlphaBay, bitcoin and the dark web: What parents should know

More Information The most common downloaded browser used to access the dark net is called Tor. If your child downloads Tor or has friends who have, here are some things to discuss: 1. Talk about internet ethics and what constitutes illegal activity. 2. Teach your child how to spot sketchy behavior online, including ‘grooming.’ 3. Make sure your child knows even ‘just visiting’ the dark web is risky. 4. Urge your child to NEVER accept anything purchased on the dark web.

The new drug dealer in town probably lives right in your house: the internet, specifically, a place on the internet you might not have heard of — the dark web.

Accessed via special software that hides your identity and encrypts traffic, the dark web is a network of untraceable activity and sites. Site content doesn’t appear in search engines and users typically have VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that hide internet activity from government agencies. VPNs give a user a fake IP (internet protocol) address, which is a number that identifies a network — sort of like a street address for your network.

An increasing number of people — including teens — are using the dark web to order drugs. With a credit card, a little know-how and one click of a mouse, anyone can place an order on illegal marketplaces, with delivery right to your doorstep.

Federal agents in July took down the largest such marketplace in history, which had more than 250,000 listings for drugs and toxic chemicals. Called AlphaBay, federal agents attributed drugs like fentanyl bought on the site to multiple overdoses across the country.

Unlike bulky prescription drugs, potent synthetics are small enough to fit about 50,000 doses inside a standard envelope. With such efficiency, dark web drug marketplaces are quickly becoming a formidable opponent in the opioid crisis. While the dark web accounts for a small portion of heroin and other drugs, it plays a prominent role in the proliferation of synthetics such as fentanyl.

Federal agents have not released data on how many of these dark web marketplaces exist, but today’s sites are far outpacing the original online marketplace, Silk Road. Ross W. Ulbricht founded Silk Road specifically for drug sales and in its three years of operation saw more than 1.5 million transactions. Authorities took down the site in 2013, and two years later Ulbricht received a life sentence.

Sales on the dark web are typically done with digital currency, called Bitcoin, that allow for untraceable transactions across the web. When federal agents seized Silk Road, they also seized about 26,000 bitcoins from users, valued at about $3.6 million. When AlphaBay went offline in July, about $3.8 million in users’ Bitcoin went along with it.

In late August, just a little more than a month after feds took down AlphaBay, individual arrests continue. Yet, since the takedown, listings on other sites have increased significantly, according to a recent report from the BBC.

These online dark sites aren’t just dangerous — they’re also illegal and often extremely disturbing. Along with black markets, these sites often contain things such as child pornography, snuff films and other illegal content. To help prevent your child from accessing the dark web, you can install special filters or web blockers. But most importantly, talk with your kids about the dangers of drugs, learn the signs of abuse, model good behavior and — just in case — watch for unexpected packages in the mail.

It is important to note that the dark web is not the same as the deep web, which search engines also do not index but do not require a special browser for access. Deep web examples include anything that includes personal data, such as email.