Posts Tagged ‘dark web’

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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Some Silk Road drug dealers are promising to donate a percentage of this week’s sales to charity

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Black markets are supposed to be dangerous places. Drug dealers are bad guys. Drug users are selfish hedonists who would steal from their Grandma for a fix.

Except when they’re not.

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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?

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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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Silk Road users have been shocked twice in the past two days when a forum member released names, addresses and order details of dozens of purported customers.

The user – first calling themselves ‘Info Wars’ and, once that account was banned, ‘Infowars’ – pounded the forums with repeats of the same post – a list of names and addresses, along with alleged drugs orders delivered to those addresses. Hundreds of posts were made before the user was banned and the forums taken offline ‘for maintenance’.

Silk Road down while the offending posts are removed

Silk Road down while the offending posts are removed

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Atlantis Marketplace has undertaken aggressive marketing of its site over the past few months, touting superior features to those offered by Silk Road.  Its aim has been to both attract new customers and lure clients away from the incumbent giant, but so far they must be underwhelmed by the response.

No stopping the Pirate (image: Forbes.com)

No stopping the Pirate (image: Forbes.com)

Attracting sellers has not been an issue.  Many of Silk Road’s top-rated vendors set up shop with Atlantis, enticed by waiver of set-up fees ($500 at Silk Road) and low commission rates (Silk Road takes a sliding scale from 10% of the first $50 to 1.5% of everything over $1000, vs Atlantis 6% of the first $50 down to 1% over $1000).  Atlantis went out of their way to verify their identities, and the vendors passed on the savings to their customers by way of lower prices.

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In Puberty Blues (the book, not the movie or TV show), there is a classic line where the protagonist’s mother warns her not to sit on the aisle at the movie theatre because “some pusher might come along and jab god-knows-what into your arm”.

An Aussie classic

An Aussie classic

Growing up I was always being warned about malevolent people who would seek me out and trick me into trying drugs, providing them for free until I was hooked.  Then they would charge extravagant prices once they had me in their evil clutches.  We had police officers coming to school to scare the bejeezus out of us with descriptions of the tricks they would use, disguising them as lollies, or jabbing us unexpectedly, with one hit leading to a lifetime of addiction and certain early death.

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“We will be an adversary not to be trifled with. We have big plans for Atlantis, and we’re here to stay.”.

As online drugs marketplace Silk Road sustains blows from an ongoing attack its owner says “appears to be DoS in nature,” the forums are awash with queries, rumours and speculation about newcomer, Atlantis Marketplace.  Is it responsible for the attacks on Silk Road? Is it a better, more stable alternative? Who runs it? Is it just one great big honeypot for law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence on drug dealers?

Newcomer Atlantis Marketplace aims to cannibalise Silk Road's market share

Newcomer Atlantis Marketplace aims to cannibalise Silk Road’s market share

There is something a little bizarre about chatting to directors (yes, they have a board) of an underground black market about their company model.  But that’s what I did last night when two of the founders of Atlantis, ‘Loera’ and ‘Vladimir’ answered my questions in real time (over encrypted chat, naturally).

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With the media reporting that internet drug dealing is on the rise, it’s no great surprise that new marketplaces have started popping up wanting a piece of the action.  Most of these seem to be wannabes with no real hope of making a dent into the big boy’s market share.  But a couple seem determined to provide real competition to Silk Road, the undisputed market leader with 7,053 drug listings.

Online black market places are competing for a share of the profits

Online illicit drug marketplaces are competing for a share of the profits

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