Silk Road

Published October 3, 2013

The Silk Road events are exciting!

Here's a summary for people who don't know much about Silk Road (including me).

Silk Road is a hidden website (only accessible via an anonymous network called Tor) which is kind of like a black market Ebay, and is used primarily (or at least famously) for selling drugs. Exchanges there are done in a digital currency called BitCoin (whose value is now likely to tank, at least temporarily, as SilkRoad was one of relatively few places that you can actually use them). Silk Road was interesting for being a strange little centre of crypto-anarchism. Although the focus was drugs, the people selling were supposedly regular-ish people making them in smallish quantities and selling them to recreational users. Supposedly. Certainly a lot different than buying it on the street from your local crime lord, anyway.

It was run by the Dread Pirate Roberts ([SPOILER] aka Westley aka Ross Ulbricht) who has now been arrested. The DPR engaged in a battle of wits with a user called Vizzini FriendlyChemist, who somehow got hold of a large list of SR users and tried to blackmail DPR. DPR tried to hire a hitman to have FriendlyChemist killed for a third of the blackmail price, but did so in a rather blasé way that suggests he might have known that the hitman was in fact FriendlyChemist, and thereby convinced FriendlyChemist to accept a smaller sum of money than originally asked for in exchange for not having a real hitman after him.

(Or maybe DPR didn't know and really did want to kill FriendlyChemist. I have no idea. You have to admire his dedication to his users' privacy, anyway)

According to the documents, it looks like Prince Humperdinck the FBI didn't compromise Tor. It looks like DPR was sloppy and left enough clues lying around to paint his real identity as being an interesting individual. Apparently he ordered some fake IDs which were intercepted at the US border and resulted in a visit from a law enforcement agency, whom he told "Anyone can buy order IDs from Silk Road with Bitcoin". Nothing suspicious there, just an average citizen mysteriously targeted for a batch of fake IDs who also happens to have a surprisingly good knowledge of online black markets. Perfectly normal.

Regardless, relying on Tor is a bad idea, because:

  1. The FBI might have compromised Tor and used this to discover the circumstantial evidence which they then presented as their investigation in an effort to keep their knowledge of Tor quiet
  2. Tor is a relatively small network and a well funded agency could learn a lot about the network simply by putting a lot of the machines on it.

The overall point is: If you've got something to hide, don't get sloppy (hint: you will) and don't use Tor.

Filed under: technology, internet, tor, bitcoin

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