Silk Road, the story of the most illegal place on the internet.
You can do a lot of weird stuff on the internet. I mean, Ken met his wife there, right? But for all the nefarious dealings, you need to head over to the dark web. You won’t be able to access the dark web using a standard browser like Chrome. Instead, you need special software, such as Tor, which stands for The Onion Router.
The Tor browser is actually based on Firefox, and is used to access a .onion domain, as opposed to standard domains, such as .com or .org. Onion routing is where data is encrypted in layers, and each layer is bounced through several random computers before reaching its destination. No single layer contains the entire IP Address of the source, thus remaining almost entirely anonymous, Kind of like a VPN on steroids.
Ironically, Tor is originally developed not for Shrek, but for the military, to send confidential information. Now, today, the military still funds Tor, but it is entirely operated as a non-profit by volunteers. Not everything on the dark web is illegal. A lot of users just want to take advantage of the anonymity. Even sites such as Facebook offer a dark web version, which amazingly enough, yes, Facebook does offer some privacy.
Not only does this provide security, but importantly, it allows a lot of users to circumvent things like surveillance, as well as censorship. Because of this, the dark web is a haven for sites specializing in nefarious activities – selling drugs, stolen credit cards, or even hiring a hit man. However, the most infamous site was the Silk road.
Founded in February 2011 by Ross Ulbricht, it was named after the real Silk road, a trade route that connected Europe, India, and China, way back in the day. When Ulbricht graduated college, he started up his first company, a much more wholesome business, Good Wagon Books, to sell, well, you know, used books. Now naturally, he moved from reselling text books to the only business that’s even more lucrative, selling drugs.
100% of the silk road’s transactions were done through Bitcoin, to further maintain the user’s anonymity. Fun fact, lots of people had a few bitcoins left over after buying stuff on the silk road, and accidentally made a ton of money when Bitcoin spiked.
By 2013, the site had over 10 thousand products available, however, 70 percent of those products were drugs. You could even browse by category for things like stimulants, psychedelics, prescriptions, and of course the nefarious other. Ulbricht was met with a number of issues in running the site. He was a self-taught coder, and skilled hackers were often able to break into the silk road security, and used that to blackmail Ulbricht. Toward the end, he was paying 10’s of thousands of dollars a week to ward off blackmailers.
However, what actually brought down Silk road, was just good old-fashioned sloppiness. Online, Ulbricht went by the name Dread Pirate Roberts, a reference to the Princess Bride. When the site launched, he originally went by Altoid, instead of Dread Pirate Roberts. Now, Ulbricht had posted advertisements for Silk road on a number of bitcoin forums using his Altoid username. Once they had his name, police were easily able to track him down to the San Francisco Public Library.
Fearing that he would attempt to delete or encrypt his laptop, two FBI agents distracted Ulbricht by posing as a couple getting into a heated argument. When he turned to see that argument, another agent grabbed the laptop before quickly arresting him. Ulbricht was charged with money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics, and was convicted and sentenced to a double life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole.
So, you know, maybe don’t start a deep web drug empire while using your name at Gmail, I guess.