Archive for the ‘Dark Web’ Category

It’s been just over a month since Silk Road got seized and Ross Ulbricht, allegedly the site’s founder Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested. A new Silk Road market has opened up, 24 hours after a false start which saw administration try to get things going at the poetic time of  4:20 pm GMT on 5th November . But is it truly the phoenix of Silk Road, a honeypot or an ingenious con?

This is what visitors will be greeted with at the new Silk Road.  More screenshots below

This is what visitors will be greeted with at the new Silk Road. More screenshots below

Few people imagined that the closure of the largest illicit drugs market in the world would stop people from wanting to procure narcotics. In fact many predicted it would set off the so-called ‘Hydra effect’ – cut off the head and five more spring up in its place. And that’s pretty much what happened.

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Since the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, allegedly Silk Road’s Dread Pirate Roberts, conspiracy theories have been coming thick and fast and they range from the plausible to the absurd.

tin_foil_hat

A lot of them involve his friend Rene Pinnell, for whom Ulbricht relocated to San Francisco – either that Pinnell is the real DPR and set Ulbricht up for the fall right from the beginning, or they are in it together and will provide each other’s reasonable doubt. Then there’s the one that it’s all an ingenious ruse that is going to plan so that double jeopardy laws can be invoked later. Or it’s all a setup so law enforcement can be seen to have done something. Or there’s a good chance of parallel construction of evidence by the authorities.

I’m not much one for wearing a tinfoil hat, though I get a kick out of reading all the theories. But there has been something odd happening, which probably has a totally innocent explanation, but it’s a bit weird.

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I owe much of this post to the work of Nicolas Christin, the researcher who previously provided the analysis of Silk Road’s income. He is much cleverer than me or you. Give him a follow on @nc2y

One of the most dramatic revelations to come out of the New York Criminal Complaint in relation to Ross Ulbricht, the alleged Dread Pirate Roberts, was that Silk Road had enjoyed a turnover of $1.2 billion since its inception 2½ years ago, which equated to a commission of $80 million for its owner.

This is how we have been reporting the FBI's claims

This is how we have been reporting the FBI’s claims

Actually, that’s not exactly what the document said. What it said was:

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Hey, if the person who emailed me an encrypted message headed “Scoop” and said they wouldn’t be going back to that email addy could re-send it, I got a Decryption Failed (no public key) error. I need your public key. Use the safe-mail addy in my About page if you want.

Today's mainstream media piece

Today’s mainstream media piece

I have a new feature in The Age today. Of course, I’d really like you all to go out and buy the paper, but if you can’t do that, here’s a link to the online version: The road’s closed to these drugs. Or below is the TL;DR version.

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If the Bitcointalk hackers are reading this, can you please let me know if I’m a lousy journo and missed the smoking gun, or if it was part of a deleted post?

I originally wrote the below in response to a lengthy, well thought-out comment by a reader on a previous blog about the changing face of Dread Pirate Roberts. But then I figured, why waste what became the length of a blog post in itself? So here is my comment, recycled and slightly amended.

I’ve been mulling over the conclusions I drew in my blog post a few weeks ago, “Which Pirate is That?” in light of revelations from the FBI documents following the arrest of Ross Ulbricht.  Clearly, if the FBI docs are accurate – the gmail address was linked to altoid in 2011 and they swooped on Ulbricht as he was logged in as DPR – then it looks like there was only ever one DPR.

Allegedly the previous 'nym of Dread Pirate Roberts

Allegedly the previous ‘nym of Dread Pirate Roberts

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Whilst many vendors and buyers have migrated to Silk Road’s two remaining competitors, Black Market Reloaded and Sheep Marketplace, other members have been working around the clock to develop and launch Silk Road 2.0.

Soon this will be Silk Road 2.0

Soon this will be Silk Road 2.0

Ex-Atlantis mod, Heisenberg2.0, claims to have counted “at least 5 publicly stated projects with the said aim of becoming “Silk Road 2.0″ and many more gathering info and building alliances.”

The main contenders are a team of allegedly trusted and verified Silk Road vendors who are working together to recreate the black market virtually identically. A forum has already been created that mirrors the original and its members have been given a sneak peek at the layout of the new marketplace, which will operate under the same philosophy and rules as the old one.

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According to FBI documents, Dread Pirate Roberts claims to have carried out one hit and was haggling on price for another. But was he the victim of an elaborate hoax?

Did DPR really fall for a hitman hoax like this?

Did DPR really fall for a hitman hoax like this?

According to the FBI’s Criminal Complaint, Silk Road’s owner, the Dread Pirate Roberts, sought to engage a hitman to deal with a blackmailer who was threatening to expose names and addresses of some of the site’s top vendors. DPR allegedly exchanged messages with someone called “redandwhite” who offered to carry out the hit for between $150,000 and $300,000 depending on whether DPR wanted the hit to be “clean or unclean”.

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And so timezones screwed me over and I’ve just woken up to the news that the Dread Pirate Roberts has been arrested. I haven’t even had my second coffee yet, nor have I been able to digest what’s happened, but I’m pretty sure my blog is well on its way to most hits ever for a day.

What you'll see if you try to go to Silk Road today

What you’ll see if you try to go to Silk Road today – note the Silk Road Camel watermark

I’m getting quite a few hits from the UK’s Telegraph that is inventing weird stories about Silk Road providing access to real-life gladiator fights (not only do they not exist on the dark web, SR never even tried to scam anyone into believing they could provide access)

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“Atlantis admins shut down the site and ran away with the coins. It’s the truth.” - Cicero, Moderator of Atlantis Marketplace forum

Image: bitcoinexaminer.org.

Image: bitcoinexaminer.org.

A little under six months ago – not long after they opened shop – I conducted the first in-depth interview with online drug barons Loera and Vladimir, founders of Atlantis Marketplace.  The two were excited at the prospect of not only wrenching market share from incumbent black market giant Silk Road, but also bringing new business in and legitimising the online illicit drug market space.

Last week, Atlantis announced it was shutting down due to mysterious and unspecified “security concerns”.

The announcement, repeated on the Atlantis Facebook page, official forum, Reddit and Twitter, called it “terrible news” and the owners sounded truly contrite. They gave users a week to withdraw their crypto-currency, after which it would be donated to a “drug-related charity”.  That was the last anybody ever heard from anyone representing the administration of Atlantis.

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Should Wikipedia draw a line at including links to illegal marketplaces or websites hosting objectionable content?  And does it have a duty to prevent its readers from becoming victims of phishing if they visit those links?

wikilogo

For such a short Wikipedia entry, Silk Road has been responsible for a lot of behind-the-scenes drama.

It started with a demand on 13 June 2011 (shortly after Silk Road first appeared on Wiki) that the whole entry be deleted by someone who apparently doubted you could really buy drugs online and have them delivered in the mail.  “The only references anyone has been able to provide are a Gawker blog article and a passing reference on a Guardian blog,” went the argument. “Heck, we’re still not entirely sure that it isn’t just a hoax…”

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