If you’ve never heard of Silk Road, it might be due to the fact that this anonymous Tor-only marketplace is the most popular on the dark web, and there’s a reason why. It’s either one of the best or worst things to ever happen online, depending on who you ask.
This article will explore why it started and what its original intentions were. We’ll also take a look at how it became such a juggernaut in America and around the world, where your bitcoins end up when you sell items on Silk Road, and what might happen next for this groundbreaking marketplace.
This article will cover:
- – What Is Silk Road?
- – History of Silk Road Marketplaces
- – User Demographics on Silk Road
- – How to Access the Site & the Products You Can Find There
- – Conclusion
So, What Is Silk Road?
The Silk Road is an online marketplace that specializes in black market products and services. It is a link between those who are looking to buy illegal goods and services with digital currency. The website was created in February 2011 by Dread Pirate Roberts but was later seized by the FBI in October 2013.
Silk Road has been one of the most popular dark web markets, holding up to one-third of all drug deals on the Internet.
The site allows people worldwide to buy drugs like heroin, cocaine, cannabis from countries like Afghanistan, United Kingdom without any legal consequences or any fear of getting caught for their crimes.
Many people are flocking to this black market because it boasts anonymity, protection against potential scams or identity theft, and a seemingly unlimited inventory of products to purchase with bitcoin.
History of Silk Road Marketplaces
The first iteration of Silk Road was created by someone named “Dread Pirate Roberts” in 2011. (There are actually several SilkRoads on different markets, but this article will focus on the original Silk Road.) Silk Road was initially launched to serve the legal, black market version of bitcoin. At its peak popularity in late 2011, Silk Road had over 9,000 active users and more than $1.2 million in sales per month.
By 2012, however, the threat of FBI raids brought the site to a halt after Silk Road received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York alleging that Ross Ulbricht (a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts”) was operating an illegal drug marketplace. At this point, Silk Road was shut down for good.
The Silk Road has been shut down several times, but it always came back online due to its “offline backup copy” feature. This feature stores all of the site’s information on a computer that has never been on the internet, and allows the site to come back online if anything happens to it.
The Hidden Website Behind bars:
Law enforcement officers arrested Ross William Ulbricht at Glen Park in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. The FBI then tracked down Ulbricht’s laptop, which was filled with information explaining the inner workings of Silk Road and other details. Upon further investigation into Ulbricht’s personal bank account records prior to his arrest, the FBI was able to discover the $13.4 million worth of bitcoins in a wallet belonging to Ulbricht that had been used for Silk Road business.
According to the FBI, there are about 2000 illegal transactions a month made through Silk Road, and prosecutors believe that the site has earned over $1 Billion since its creation. The case of Ross William Ulbricht will be an important precedent for future cryptocurrency cases going forward. A lot of people’s futures rest in the hands of one man’s actions, and this has lead to much controversy regarding Ulbricht’s sentence and what it says about bitcoin as a whole in regards to criminal charges.
Ulbricht has been sentenced to life in prison without parole and must forfeit over $30 million in assets that were made from selling drugs via Silk Road. His sentence has not been upheld by the appeals process. Ulbricht’s lawyer has said he will appeal the case against his client after a verdict is handed down by the trial court judge. It’s also likely that Ulbricht will appeal his sentence because it was given without formal evidence of his guilt or innocence having been presented.
The demise of the original Silk Road left a void in the market which launched four other marketplaces by 2013. There are several different markets that are similar to the original Silk Road, all of them are coded with Tor browser for anonymity on both sides of the transaction.
All of these markets feature a buyer and seller rating system and a reputation system which allows buyers and vendors to rate each other after using the service.
User Demographics on Silk Road
The type of people attracted to these markets varies greatly. Some customers are looking to buy LSD for little to no profit whatsoever, some people just want to buy hard drugs like heroin or MDMA (which is also known as ecstasy) and pay less than found on most other marketplaces, while others are looking for more potent drugs like GHB (liquid GHB is said to be up to 10 times stronger than regular GHB), ketamine, or methamphetamine.
Since buying drugs online can be risky, vendors on these sites are known to offer “stealth” shipping (removing all identifying marks) and private key encryption (the buyer’s bitcoin is held in an encrypted wallet the vendor cannot access). Vendors consistently use effective marketing techniques like giveaways and product previews to promote their products. They also offer discounts for first-time buyers or new limited edition items.
The Silk Road website has been called “the Amazon of illegal drugs” by Forbes Magazine and “the biggest black market for illegal drugs online” by Wired Magazine and is one of the most trafficked websites on the Internet.
Over 100 million hits are made every month to the hidden website, and millions of transactions are done every month on its darknet marketplaces. A wide variety of illegal products and services can be bought through Silk Road, including:
- Drugs – legal or illegal depending on the seller
- Weapons – fully automatic machine guns, hand grenades, knives etc.
- Explosives and related items – Bombs, C4 explosives, rockets etc.
- Fake documents – Passports, drivers licenses etc.
- Hacking tools – Malware for hacking into computers or networks.
How to Access the Site & the Products You Can Find There
There are several ways to get on hidden marketplace sites like Silk Road. All of them require downloading and using the Tor browser which will mask your IP address, location, and computer operating system.
Once you have downloaded and used Tor, you can go to one of several dark web directories (like Deep Dot Net) and enter the URL of your desired marketplace.
From there, you will be prompted to download a browser for that market (similar to downloading an email program or other type of software).
The next step is to navigate through the site. It’s much like eBay in terms of navigation—the menus are in a column on the left side and vendors organize their products in categories like “drugs,” “digital goods,” or “art.”
The black market online drug trade is booming; vendors on Silk Road alone report making over $1 million in sales per month. A market of this size and scope has the potential to grow even larger, and is here to stay, despite what some free-market advocates might say. Perhaps the growth will only continue in the coming years as more people adopt bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to buy and sell on such sites.
The last message from Silk Road vendor accounts on October 2nd read: “We are looking for a new site—nothing can be said about this at present. More info will come very soon.”
In the meantime, other sites have picked up where Silk Road left off.
The New Silk Roads: Evolution and Agora (Agora is currently offline, but will likely return in mid-November)
I won’t discuss the individual offerings of these markets—instead I will merely state that it’s clear that sellers and buyers alike believe they can benefit from the privacy afforded by such markets. While some might argue that such markets should be shut down to reduce drug abuse and crime, doing so seems like an impossible task (and one which would be unlikely to yield any positive results). Nevertheless, the trade in illicit drugs online continues to grow unabated despite its illegality.
The future is bright for the black market community.
If you’re interested in learning more about the dark web markets, you can read this article here to get up to date.