Sunday Reading: The Story Behind The Silk Road

The Silk Road was the most popular black market platform on Internet. It was born as a libertarian experiment, where people could buy and sell anything, without constrains from any state (but with some general rules, forbidding for example child pornography). People started to send drugs over normal postal mail (even internationally), murders where ordered and the police went crazy trying to take them down.

The Silk Road

The story I bring today was published on Wired a time ago; it is the story of how the FBI captured the creator of the Silk Road (a crystallographer disenchanted with science), all the in and outs that were driving crazy the investigators. The article also tries to depict a profile of Ross William Ulbricht based on the investigation that different agencies in the US carried on for more than a year.

The story includes double FBI agents, acting undercover and cashing massive amounts of bitcoins from the black market. Killing orders issued to the FBI itself without knowing it, rushing for arrests before a laptop lid is closed. A bit of sex (but is a minor detail), and a small sight of what is going on in the “dark internet”, a place at the reach of our hand but not explored by the majority.

The fact was, Green wasn’t just your average Mormon grandpa. Over the past few months he had been handling customer service for the massive online enterprise called Silk Road. It was like a clandestine eBay, a digital marketplace for illicit trade, mostly drugs. Green, under the handle Chronicpain, had parlayed his extensive personal narcotics knowledge—he’d been on pain meds for years—into a paying gig working for the site. Silk Road was hidden in the so-called dark web, a part of the Internet that’s invisible to search engines like Google. To access Silk Road you needed special cryptographic software. Combining an anonymous interface with traceless payments in the digital currency bitcoin, the site allowed thousands of drug dealers and nearly 1 million eager worldwide customers to find each other—and their drugs of choice—in the familiar realm of ecommerce. For a brief time, from 2011 to 2013, it was a wild success. In that relatively short span, Silk Road managed to rack up (depending on how you count) more than $1 billion in sales.

More on Wired (Part 1)
More on Wired (Part 2)

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