A year-long research project by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Independent Investigations and Intelligence Department on the extent and nature of performance-enhancing substance trafficking on the Dark Web concluded that it is a very new and marginal activity. It is not likely to be a major source of materials for top athletes and coaches.
The study was published today by the Classified Information Unit of the Intelligence and Investigations Division of the World Anti-Doping Agency, in collaboration with the Agency’s Department of Science and Professor David Decare Hito of the School in Criminology of the University of Montreal in Quebec (Canada). It aims to better understand the extent to which performance-enhancing material is trafficked on the dark web and to assess the type and quality of trafficked material.
“This study was very useful in understanding the role of the dark web as a potential market for prohibited substances,” said Gunter Junger, WADA’s Director of Intelligence and Investigations. Although the dark web allows for anonymity to be maintained, purchasing performance-enhancing materials in this market carries many risks. In the vast majority of cases, you don’t get what you think you bought. Sometimes you get less, sometimes more, and sometimes you don’t even get the substance you need, which you’ll never know unless you experience it for yourself. Purchasing prohibited items on the dark web also comes with many other risks, such as fraud, cryptocurrency fluctuations, and unreliable delivery. »
This project is another great example of anti-doping cooperation. It is based on an interdisciplinary approach that combines freely accessible data, scientific analysis and active intelligence gathering, and each of these technologies allows exploration of a different side of the dark web. I would like to thank Professor David Décary-Hétu and his research team at the University of Montreal, who ensured that the study data were followed up, as well as our colleagues in the WADA Department of Science for their expertise in the examinations and analyses. »
The main conclusions of the study were as follows:
- Top athletes are unlikely to use this source to purchase performance-enhancing substances. The Dark Web tends to attract low-level athletes, such as amateur bodybuilders or non-competitive bodybuilders.
- Trafficking in performance-enhancing drugs appears to be a marginal activity, both in absolute numbers and relative to the entire visible web and the dark underground economy. These materials represent only a small portion of all offers on the dark web market.
- The performance-enhancing material trade on the dark web favors small purchases rather than bulk purchases.
- There is no organized community of users exchanging information – the visual web remains a more active marketplace for buying and selling performance-enhancing materials.
- Data from laboratory analysis indicates that products are often mislabeled or have significant differences in concentration. In 83% of the transactions made in this study, the product and/or strength received was not as advertised.
- Although it is less prevalent than the visual web, traffic on performance-enhanced materials on the dark web does not appear to be controlled. The dark web provides actors with the advantage of anonymity, which, combined with weak regulations and a lack of law enforcement capacity, allows suppliers of such material to operate with relative impunity.
As part of this project, WADA’s Department of Intelligence and Investigations Confidential Information Unit has prepared eight intelligence packages, which have been distributed to relevant law enforcement agencies and anti-doping partners, for review and investigation.
In addition, the study makes the following recommendations and steps:
- Targeted engagement of providers of performance-enhancing materials should foster closer links with dark web actors to gather more intelligence.
- It is necessary to conduct a similar study on the visual web, in order to recommend general actions targeting the two markets.
- Additional information should be collected directly from online actors in public forums to identify new materials and evasion techniques, with a view to enhancing detection methods.
- After the successful application of an interdisciplinary approach in this project, it is recommended that this approach be repeated as often as possible.