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NBI: Fighting online crime in Finland at forefront of dark web drug trade

Police found there is a broad age range of buyers and sellers of illegal substances on the dark web, spanning different social groups.

According to chief inspector Lars Henriksson, the network has also helped spread the illicit drug trade to increasingly remote areas of Finland, and the criminal activity was no longer concentrated in larger cities. Image: AOP

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and other authorities have stepped up surveillance of the trade of illegal goods on the dark web this year, but without appropriate funding the job will become increasingly challenging, according to the head of a crime prevention unit.

The dark web refers to sites on the internet that require special software or configurations to reach and cannot be accessed with ordinary web browsers. On that part of the internet, a person's online activity can be anonymised.

More than 90 percent of the dark web activity monitored by Finnish authorities dealt with the sale of illegal drugs. However, the head of the NBI's crime prevention unit, chief inspector Lars Henriksson, said that conducting illegal activities on the shadowy network isn't entirely a risk-free proposition.

"Anonymity doesn't eliminate the risk of getting caught and being held criminally liable. Contrary to popular belief, criminal activity on the dark web is not out of the reach of law enforcement," Henriksson said in a statement.

Dark web drugs common in Finland

Even so, the volume of drug trafficking on the anonymous web remains significant in Finland, even when compared internationally.

According to an international survey (siirryt toiseen palveluun)of drug use, Finland was found to be the country with the largest proportion of individuals who acquired drugs on the dark web. Around 45 percent of the nearly 2,200 respondents who had used or bought drugs in Finland over the past year said they had acquired them via the anonymous network.

The next-highest ranking country was the UK, with 29 percent of respondents saying the same, and in third place was Australia with 15 percent.

Due to low respondent numbers, all of the Nordic countries were not included in the international comparison. The share of dark web drug buyers in Norway was 14 percent while four percent of Danish respondents said they had purchased drugs on the dark web.

Law enforcement's monitoring of the network has also found that there is a broad age range of buyers and sellers of illegal substances — like recreational drugs, for example — and that users of the dark web were not unified by any particular social status.

According to Henriksson, the network has also helped spread the illicit drug trade to increasingly remote areas of Finland, and the criminal activity was no longer concentrated in larger cities.

He said that casual recreational drug users were among the most likely to be drawn to the dark web to buy their drugs, as they may not otherwise have the contacts or acquaintances needed to do so.

The platforms and marketplaces used to sell drugs on the dark web are changing rapidly. The bureau also noted that the international drug trade is also increasingly focused on Finland.

The dark web monitoring work carried out this year by the NBI and other authorities was initiated through extra funding from Parliament.

However, in the release Henriksson also noted that due to inadequate resources and ability to conduct police operations online, the outlook on preventing crime was challenging.