November 9, 2011

Did you know ... about the dangers of online drug shopping?

Ran Mosessco Principal Security Researcher

Increases in prescription prices and lower insurance benefits have prompted many to look for bargain drugs on the Internet. There are legitimate pharmacies online, but as the highly qualified nurse below suggests, there are obvious dangers. And many dangers that are not so obvious. 


Websites that offer illegal drugs, anabolic steroids and prescription drugs “with no prescription needed!” are clearly dodgy, and are classified by Websense under the category “Abused Drugs”

Products from these sites may be ineffective at best or dangerous at worst. For example, counterfeit tablets of the weight-loss drug, Alli, seized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were found to contain twice the recommended dose of another substance that has been associated with heart problems.

Some sites offer a veritable supermarket of illegal drugs, assuring buyers anonymity through the use of Bitcoin , a supposedly untraceable online currency, and other “guarantees.” These protections may not be as effective as users think they are. 

Besides the danger of ingesting unknown substances and falling foul of the law, buyers of online drugs risk other dangers as well. Nicolas Christin , a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, found that 32% of searches for prescription drugs led to URLs that were infected with malicious code. Legitimate university sites and even trusted .gov sites are often hijacked and redirect to illegal online pharmacies.  Malicious links can be uploaded as comments to message boards and forums of legitimate sites, often by spam bots posting to thousands of sites.

In addition, new synthetic drugs such as "bath salts" and "spice" have been flying under the radar of law enforcement. The effects of these drugs are finally bringing them to headlines—and emergency rooms.  Both drugs exist in a legal limbo which has been exploited by Internet sales.

Synthetic canniboids, known as “spice” or “incense,” are touted as a legal alternative to marijuana, but seem to have much more dangerous side effects, possibly due to adulteration with unknown ingredients. The composition of so-called "bath salts" has not yet been conclusively determined, but these synthetic stimulants have nothing to do with floral scents or relaxing bathtub soaks. Sold as "bath salts," "plant food," etc., to skirt drug laws, they are produced by illegal street chemists - with all of the risks that implies.  Reported effects include paranoia, hallucinations, high blood pressure, and violent behavior towards oneself and others.

Despite more and stricter laws against possession and distribution of synthetic drugs, they are freely available via the Internet. 


Websense ® customers are protected from the dangers of these sites by ACE, our Advanced Classification Engine.


Ran Mosessco

Principal Security Researcher

About Forcepoint

Forcepoint is the leading user and data protection cybersecurity company, entrusted to safeguard organizations while driving digital transformation and growth. Our solutions adapt in real-time to how people interact with data, providing secure access while enabling employees to create value.