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April 11, 2013

Using Bitcoins on the Murky Silk Road

Using Bitcoins on the Murky Silk Road

What do you do if you want your illegal substance of choice home delivered quickly and cheaply? With the digital age there are hidden nooks on the Internet that make it simpler and more anonymous to buy and sell drugs. The old way was to ask a friend of a friend that knew where to get some ‘stuff’. You would be whisked away with promises of ‘the best’ while being subtly reminded that they are helping you and it would only be fair if you shared just a little bit. A drive to a dilapidated house in a dilapidated suburb where you meet ‘the man’ who is barely conscious of what decade it is. Yes, fun times, why use an impersonal website when you can go to a house full of people growing, manufacturing or cutting enough drugs to earn a visit from the DEA and they have premium security allowing you and your new best friend to just walk on in. I am much happier clicking on what I want and getting a delivery sent to a friend’s business under an anonymous made up name. While there are many marijuana seed suppliers that will send the product to you getting the actual drug or many of the other recreational drugs available is not something that you want to do on an open internet web site. This is where a site called Silk Road, which is not as hidden as it once was, becomes an ideal way to do a deal, straight from your computer. Silk Road has had a lot of unwelcome publicity and a US Senator named it as a “one stop shop for you illegal drug needs”. Surprisingly, the Senator is correct once you have logged onto Silk Road you are in the Amazon of illicit substances with different sellers offering products that vary in cost and potency. As with its book selling sales machine customers can rate their experience which gives you a good idea if they are reliable or not. Some of the sellers have a lot of products and a lot of happy customers so this not just a hobby for at least some of the people that are providing these services. There are two ways that Silk Road protects itself, its sellers and its buyers from prosecution by the world police forces. They use the Tor system, which anonymously connects you to the internet via an encrypted network of servers and the use of Bitcoins to make the tracing of transaction almost impossible. This is truly a total separate internet that has some darker edges and is hidden from most people that use the internet every day.

What is Tor?

Tor is a client that installs a communications application and a clean basic Firefox browser, which ensures that you have a browser that is not tainted by anything you may have previously downloaded. The settings on the browser also give you maximum privacy but do stop some functionality like running scripts. It has been made famous by the escapades of WikiLeaks and the Anonymous group. It is not perfect but realistically unless you were targeted by a major international investigation, you are as hidden as you can be without taking precautions that require technical expertise and the ability to use a fake online persona. The Tor client allows access to .Onion sites that are basis of an underground network often referred to as the Darknet or the Black Internet. This is where people go to find and do things that they do not want other people to be able to trace back to them. Hacking, crime, drugs, file sharing, leaking information and other darker things go on in this hidden realm.

The currency, Bitcoins

The preferred currency of this hidden internet is the Bitcoin. It allows instant transactions that are irreversible and only take a few minutes for confirmation. All transactions are publicly available but this only includes the amount and the sender and receivers hash code. It is possible to generate new hash codes at will and to transfer the Bitcoins through several other cut out accounts. If you do not publicly link yourself to your hash then you are as anonymous as you can be without taking involved precautions.

Where to buy and sell?

The online marketplace is called Silk Road and it can be found in the onion. You will be asked to register and then you can log in as a buyer. The site is basically a lot of registered sellers that have legal and illegal goods for sale. The website acts as a transaction point that escrows your payment to ensure that the transaction is acceptable to both sides. This is the reason that the Silk Road is so popular, it gives casual buyers a layer of security that they do not have if they were to do the transaction without a trusted intermediary. The process is fairly simple you browse through the section you are interested in and select the item that meets your needs. You can see the reputation and feedback of the seller, a description and sometimes a photograph of the item as well. You then click on the item and it takes you to a checkout area where you can transfer your Bitcoins. The funds are then held until you release them to the seller.

Some closing thoughts

The volatility in the Bitcoin market recently means that you need to keep a close eye on the price you might pay. If you already have Bitcoins then it is less of a problem but if you are thinking of funding your Bitcoins with currency then the price can rise quite dramatically even in a single day. The DarkNet is not just called this because it is hidden and there are some unsavory sites that you can stumble across inadvertently. The hidden nature of many of the sites can bring out the worst in people so try to be very circumspect with personal information no matter whom you talk to.