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Silk Road Wound Through Dark Side of the Internet

Society & Culture  (tags: abuse, crime, corruption, dishonesty, drugs, FBI, forgeries, government, illegal identifications )

- 1811 days ago -
A massive online bazaar hawking narcotics, weapons, forgeries, and other illicit items or services operated openly for years by relying on tools designed to safeguard privacy or foster a new world of Internet commerce. Breaking Bad in the real world.


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Kit B (276)
Friday October 4, 2013, 7:26 am

San Francisco There is a dark side to the Internet, and it can be used for evil as well as for good.

A massive online bazaar hawking narcotics, weapons, forgeries, and other illicit items or services operated openly for years by relying on tools designed to safeguard privacy or foster a new world of Internet commerce.

Underground website Silk Road was seized by US authorities this week and its accused mastermind Ross William Ulbricht is to appear in federal court in San Francisco on Friday to determine whether he should remain in custody while the criminal case against him proceeds.

"Every technology has almost immediately been used to do bad things," said Alex Stamos, chief technology officer at Artemis Internet, which specializes in online security.

"People are going to do illegal stuff, but it turns out that it is really tough to run an eBay for drugs and not get caught."

Silk Road thrived on the principle that assurances of anonymity would free sellers and buyers to engage in transactions barred by law or frowned upon by society.

To accomplish this, Silk Road combined a Tor network for being invisible online with Bitcoin digital currency that can be as difficult to trace as cash trading hands in a dark alley.

"Part of the reason for the site's longevity is that it was hosted as a hidden service on the Tor network," Trend Micro security threat researcher Robert McArdle explained in a blog post.

Free Tor software lets people wrap data such as messages, website visits, or online transactions in layers of protection including encryption and then bounce it about machines in a worldwide peer-to-peer network to cover trails.

Each machine along the way only peels back a slight layer; enough to send the data to its next point in a journey

Tor community members volunteer their computers to provide relay points and the resulting network makes it a challenge to trace Internet activities.

"Tor is not only used for criminal and dubious purposes, but is also commonly used by those who wish to have a sense of anonymity online or who live in countries where access to the Internet is restricted," McArdle said.

Encrypting data and obscuring online identities has been highlighted by a scandal about US spy agencies snooping on the Internet in the name of fighting terrorism.

"It is very difficult to be anonymous on the Internet," Stamos said. "You basically have to be perfect. You screw up once and you are doing something illegal, and you are toast."

Along with giving buyers and sellers promises that none would know who they are in the real world, Silk Road required deals to be consummated with Bitcoins, an Internet Age version of cash. The four-year old currency is increasingly used to make payments in online transactions.

Bitcoins are created or exchanged using complex software protocols that have resulted in them being referred to as "cryptocurrency." While cash tends to be paper or metal, Bitcoins are snippets of code given value by scarcity and the faith that they can be traded for goods or services online.

Owners tuck the digital currency away in Bitcoin "wallets," programs that safeguard the valuable code and allow it to be exchanged with other Bitcoin wallets.

There are a variety of "wallets" ranging from digital pouches tailored for smartphones to "vaults" hosted on secure servers online and backed up to prevent loss.

Bitcoin owners have private software "keys" needed to spend the digital currency, and transactions are publicly logged in what is called a "block chain" to help ensure the integrity of the process.

"It is not actually anonymous; it is pseudo-anonymous," Stamos said of using Bitcoins. "Every transaction is publicly viewable."

Silk Road tadded "Bitcoin Tumbler" software that jumbled data to make it even harder to determine which wallets digital currency came from.

The FBI reportedly confiscated approximately $3.6 million worth of Bitcoins from Silk Road.

While investigators did not release details regarding the seizure, they could do so by getting hold of devices or servers containing the Bitcoins or by breaking into wallets, which are typically password protected.

Ulbricht was arrested while using a laptop at a San Francisco library on Tuesday, and if he was logged into his account FBI agents could have gotten easy access to his stash of Bitcoins.

"People who do Bitcoins now, almost always crypto-geeks, get ripped off all the time and there is no way to undo a transaction," Stamos said. "It's a world where everyone keeps loads of cash and the only way to have Bitcoins is to be very well armed to protect them."

There is an estimated $1.5 billion in bitcoins on the market and the digital currency can be transferred directly between smartphones or any other type of computers, raising concerns by regulators it will be used for criminal or terrorist activities.

By: Glenn Chapman | AP |

Theodore Shayne (56)
Friday October 4, 2013, 9:52 am
Noted. I had heard of this quite some time ago.

JL A (281)
Friday October 4, 2013, 9:53 am
Wonder what the new improved version will look like...

Kit B (276)
Friday October 4, 2013, 9:56 am

It was on the news early this morning, maybe this was the new improved version that was slapped down by the FBI.

PrimaAWAY B (1278)
Friday October 4, 2013, 6:43 pm
Kit,good and interesting post.

I hear something on the news last night also . I think it's related.

There is a dark side many of don't know about on the internet and It takes some work to find these heavy and real dark sides. I came across something I don't want to mention a few years ago and was absolutely shocked /surprised. I was digging for something and i have no idea how I ever got there but it was definitely not good for teens. The teens seem to know about these sites/this very dark world on the internet. That's why I don't want to mention it....

Thank You Kit for posting!! . Good post.

lisa O (6)
Friday October 4, 2013, 8:58 pm
Very interesting. Since this has been around for years, I am sure there is so etching even more secure out there by now.

Robert Hardy (68)
Friday October 4, 2013, 9:58 pm
Though the purpose was terrible, you got to give them a high grade for creativity. Too bad this skill was not used for useful and helpful purposes. Sad.

Maureen C (4)
Friday October 4, 2013, 10:03 pm
Wow, that's a complicated story! I knew about Bitcoins, which are a very interesting phenomenon from an economic standpoint; but not about the Tor service.

Thanks, Kit.


Jaime Alves (52)
Friday October 4, 2013, 11:36 pm
Noted, thanks.

Pogle S (88)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 1:20 am
Good advert for tor... now lets see?

Athena F (131)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 2:42 am
Noted, thanks!

. (0)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 7:22 am
Very interesting, Kit. Thanks for sharing.

Isabelle J (81)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 1:54 pm
Interesting !

Birgit W (160)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 2:08 pm
Thanks Kit.

Elizabeth M (65)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 2:15 pm
Wow. Very interesting!
Thank You Kit.

marie C (163)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 4:15 pm
Fascinating Thank you Kit

Past Member (0)
Saturday October 5, 2013, 11:17 pm
The possibility of remaining anonymous is of course extremely dangerous. A worldwide audience where you don't need to identify yourself is the perfect breeding ground for a 'dark side'
For years now we have been hearing about countless objectionable things going on online yet it all seems to be protected by 'freedom of speech'. A freedom of speech that leads to suicide, murder, terrorism and whatever else is no freedom at all. Time to wake up and do something about it.

Inge B (202)
Sunday October 6, 2013, 2:04 am
Who does not want to remain anonymous when the machinery of power records what you say and then chart each step you take. There are always those in power as Hitler, Bu .... etc which starts the hatred of the people.


S S (0)
Sunday October 6, 2013, 7:24 am
Thank you.

ewoud k (68)
Sunday October 6, 2013, 8:57 am
It's a pity that sites like this one will little by little take away all the privacy, liberty and freedom that -still, even if incomplete- exists on the Internet.

Inge is right, knowing who's in power, and who might be in power tomorrow or the day after, who doesn't want to stay anonymous?

It's like out in the streets, one who has nothing to hide isn't forcibly someone who wants to be tracked by a surveillance-camera.

"For our protection"?

Bullshit. Explain this to all those Jews who wore a yellow star for their protection.

I know I'm tracked, but this knowledge doesn't mean I agree with being tracked, and I'd like to be able to get some more privacy when I decide that I need some.

Just like wearing a hat and another coat when walking out on the street.

Even when I'm doing nothing illegal.

Thanks Kit!

Kerrie G (116)
Sunday October 6, 2013, 9:42 am
Noted, thanks.

M B (62)
Sunday October 6, 2013, 12:58 pm
As long as humans "work", there will be faults included. There is no safe internet as such. Where there are humans, there will be crime.

Twyla Sparks (208)
Sunday October 6, 2013, 6:07 pm
Noted, Thank You

Roger G (148)
Sunday October 6, 2013, 6:30 pm
noted, thanks

cynthia l (207)
Monday October 7, 2013, 10:52 pm
very interesting thanks for posting Kit

Carmen S (611)
Tuesday October 8, 2013, 1:39 pm
Interesting, thanks Kit.
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