What do the following web sites have in common?
(research compiled by Knujon, a small, independent research firm; all sites live as of this posting).
They're all illegal pharmacy sites affiliated with Glavmed, a Russian Internet marketing operation thought to be a part of the Russian Business Network, whose name gives you the idea they are not about selling caviar or matryoshka dolls. If you've ever received unwanted spam advertising for Viagra, Cialis, Xanax, Meridia, Levitra and other drugs -- and who hasn't -- then you've been hit by the spamming arm of Glavmed called, appropriately, Spamit.
Along with Canadian Pharmacy, which in 2009 accounted for about 60% of Internet spam by some estimates, this organized crime operation has woven itself into the fabric of Internet life.
No one seems to have a handle on how dangerous this black market really is. Last year, the United Nations reported that drug traffickers were using the Internet in the UK to target "vulnerable groups," probably meaning children and young people with access to computers and some proficiency in using them. A study compiled for the state of Ohio tracked down 495 web sites selling controlled substances, 68% of them referring users to another site to buy drugs (which is part of Glavmed's affiliate marketing business plan -- it drives traffic to your illegal pharmacy and take a percentage cut). The other 32% it called "anchor sites," those which sold drugs directly. Of those 157 anchor sites, 90% did not require a prescription, just a credit card.
According to the HBO Documentary Addiction, "the Internet has become a key source of addictive, illicit drugs and a handy resource for other practices to sustain drug use." However, a 2007 report from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy doesn't mention the Internet at all as a drug source for teens -- they apparently lean on friends and family, or steal from them, instead. The report does say, though, that teens are turning more often to illegally-obtained prescription drugs to get high because they somehow see them as safer.
So how do sites like those on our list survive and thrive? Knujon has tracked Glavmed and its activities for a couple of years, back when a significant chunk of illegal pharmacies were hosted by the India-based Internet domain registrar Directi, which cracked down significantly on them once informed, as do most registrars. Registrars have the ability to shut down websites for illegal behavior, and by contract with ICANN, are required to watch over their domain registrants for illegal activity. But once illegal drug sites are shut down by one registrar, they generally don't have much problem finding another place to host their sites.
Those on our list are hosted by German registrar Key-Systems, an ICANN-accredited registrar. Wait a minute: If an accredited domain registrar can host illegal drug-dealing sites, how good can the accreditation be? And what about registrars who are not accredited, and therefore have no contractual rules obligating them? Answers on this and other topics in future installments of Webwatcher.
It's easy to buy illegal drugs on the web