There are so many benefits of 3D printing that can end up changing the world as we know it, but in a few cases perhaps not for the better. The reliability has improved while the initial price barrier for 3D printers has dropped making them accessible to nearly everyone and allows users to make all kinds of products in their homes. Getting started is fairly easy and there are many open-source product plan ideas that can be purchased, even items that are controlled and illegal to make at home. A new University of Manchester study by Judith Aldridge, Professor of Criminology, has found 12 ‘cryptomarkets’ a type of online dark web market based on an escrow payment system, where illegal guns and ammunition were offered for sale.
According to recent studies, the dark web is enormous with 200,000 deep web sites, which is currently 400 to 550 times larger than the World Wide Web, that search engines like Google have indexed. Whatever someones bad intentions are, there’s likely a supplier on the dark web that can hook them up for the right price. Sifting through the offers on these 12 ‘cryptomarkets’ which carried 167,693 listings was not easy since they are cut off from search engines. But during one week in September in 2016, Professor Aldridge, focused on just a mere 811 of the listings in depth, because they were offering pistols, rifles and sub-machine guns for sale. As it turns out almost 1/3 of the listings were for digital offerings like tutorials to make home-fabricated guns and explosives, along with digital models (3D CAD files) to manufacture a fully-functioning firearm with a 3D printer. Some of the other interesting facts coming out of this study conducted with not-for-profit research organization RAND Europe include:
- The value of illicit trade on the 12 cryptomarkets studied was almost $81,000 per month.
- The study roughly estimates that 136 untraced firearm related products were sold on the dark web
- The US is responsible for 60 per cent of dark web sales involve arms.
- While Europe was the source of 25 per cent, according to the study.
- On the dark web after firearms themselves, instructions and models for making firearms were the second most popular firearms purchase.
- The dark web is sometimes offering lower prices than can be found in the black markets, on better performing new firearms, thus increasing their availability.
In summary from a criminal activity standpoint, the dark web is very appealing because of its ease of access, while it protects the personal safety and identity of both buyers and sellers through the use of cloaking technologies. Professor Aldridge, fears it will become the preferred platform for small groups or individuals like ‘lone-wolf’ terrorists to acquire untraceable weapons and ammunition.