InfoSec Seminar: Shining Light on Darknet: Does anonymity disinhibit user behavior on underground marketplaces?

Speaker: Cecilie Oerting

Date/Time: 15-Feb-2016, 15:00 UTC

Venue: Roberts 309



Darknet is an encrypted network that allows individuals to operate on the net anonymously. Unregulated marketplaces are prevalent on the network, many of which host illegal activities. But what effect does a fully anonymized and unregulated environment have on human behavior? This study investigated the effect of varying degrees of anonymity on consumer behavior on a simulated darknet marketplace. The study used a between-subjects design. Seventy-five people participated in the experiment (Mage=25.39, SDage=9.70). The independent variable was anonymity status (full, reduced, or control). The dependent variables were the item type purchases (legal or illegal) and the profit made. Participants were given the role of a buyer and tasked with maximizing their profit. The experiment lasted approximately one hour. The results showed that participants who believed that their anonymity was limited bought fewer illicit items and made lower profits than the control and full anonymity groups. While studied in an isolated and simulated environment, these results suggest that anonymity can disinhibit user behavior on darknet marketplaces. Higher profit in the light of anonymity lures individuals into trading illegal items, thereby crossing the moral boundary of committing a crime.


Cecilie Oerting is a final year undergraduate student at UCL majoring in Psychology. Her interest in cyberpsychology led her to pursue an internship at INTERPOL where she collaborated with researchers on cybercrime topics. Among the many fascinating topics within the realm of cybercrime, the role of anonymity on darknet marketplaces emerged as an important subject of research. Her study reflects the disinhibiting element of anonymity, which facilitates cyber-enabled crime. Cecilie is interested in the technology, digital media, content, and human-computer interaction fields.

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