Posts Tagged ‘online drugs’

“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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“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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The most successful Australian vendor on Silk Road has conned their customers out of tens of thousands of dollars

Red pill, blue pill or no pills?

Red pill, blue pill or no pills?

Aussie vendor EnterTheMatrix had a simple and effective business model.  Purchase Australia’s most popular party drugs from overseas vendors on Silk Road, add a 400% markup and resell them to Aussie Silk Road customers.  Although there were plenty of grumbles about the prices, those who wanted their drugs quickly (ETM sent by Express Post) and did not want to take the risk of importing via Customs (legal consequences are much harsher when ordering overseas) begrudgingly paid a premium.  After all, it was around the same as street prices and at least the quality of the goods tended to be consistently high.

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Last Wednesday I went along to sit in on the plea hearing of the first major Australian ‘Silk Road’ case, expecting to perhaps get a blog post out of it.  I never expected what would come next.

Where's the love SR?

Where’s the love SR?

The court heard evidence of 12 parcels containing drugs that had been intercepted between 27 March and 29 June 2012.  In his opening, the defence barrister said he would be tendering a news article into evidence that he claimed led his client to discover Silk Road. I figured it couldn’t be one of mine, as the first time I had ever written about Silk Road was 27 April 2012.

The prosecution’s case covered:

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Ever since the suspected DDoS attack in November, the admins at Silk Road have been combating a number of different scams and attacks on the site.

The Quickbuy Scam (see below) - this vendor's image has been hacked with a fake bitcoin address

The Quickbuy Scam (see below) – this vendor’s image has been hacked with a fake bitcoin address

It’s hard to tell whether this is a concerted attack by one group determined to piss the website off or each one is separate. The most pervasive ones have been:

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Is Silk Road’s owner – The Dread Pirate Roberts – sailing off into the sunset with wads of cash? Has he sold Silk Road as a going concern and included the goodwill of his name and reputation in the price?

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This image is probably very copyright to Sony and I’m sorry, but it is really really hard to find an appropriate image. Please don’t fine me, Sony

Today the owner of Silk Road announced the closure of its sister site, the weapons-dealing Armory.  The reason was not heat from law enforcement or negative press, it was simply that the site was not profitable and members complained that many listings were scams.

There are dozens of black market sites selling all manner of things on the Dark Web, but only Silk Road seems to have any real commercial success.  The closure of the Armory raises the question of whether it is the business model or the products that cause a market to fail.  Complaints of scams riddle the dark web and the online black market might not be as successful and prolific as some fear.  Is there something about drugs that inherently make them the only truly viable anonymous online black market product?

As I delved into the Dark Web I noticed a plethora of advertisements for contract killers. I decided to try and engage one of the more prolific advertisers, an organisation that claims to have many successful hits, to kill a fictitious ex-husband.  Here’s what transpired:

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Online drugs marketplaces are far better than the current alternative.

The author outside a perfectly innocent restaurant

Despite what certain newspapers and ‘current affairs’ shows would have you believe, the vast majority of drug users – even chronic drugs users – are happy, non-violent people who hold down regular jobs.  They don’t take drugs because there’s something lacking in their lives.  They take them because they enjoy them and because most recreational drugs don’t put the imbiber out of control like, say, alcohol.  And are far less likely to kill users than, say, tobacco.

The so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been a complete failure.  This is the opinion of pretty much all the people who ought to know – drug researchers, health professionals, former premiers, a former national police chief and former Defence Department chief Paul Barratt.  It seems the only people who don’t think so are politicians who need to appear ‘tough on crime’ to procure the votes of shock jock listeners who believe that all drug users are junkies ready to steal their wallet for their next fix.  Oh, and criminals.  Criminals don’t want prohibition lifted.

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