“U.S. law enforcement authorities have shut down “Silk Road,” an anonymous Internet marketplace for illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine and criminal activities such as murder for hire, and arrested its alleged owner.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday it arrested Silk Road owner, Ross William Ulbricht, 29, known online as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” in San Francisco on Tuesday, according to court filings. Ulbricht, who holds an advanced degree in chemical engineering, appeared in federal court on Wednesday and a bail hearing was set for Friday.
Silk Road has been around since 2011 and over the past few years it became the most popular black market website on Tor. What is Tor? It is a network of users and servers that provides (almost) total anonymity for those involved. Through the use of multiple layers of encryption and by relaying traffic through thousands of nodes, it makes it next to impossible to trace the data back to the source.
Because of this anonymity, the Tor Network has become a sort of Wild West of the internet. You can find everything and anything there, legal or illegal. The are sites that sell drugs, sites that sell weapons, and even sites where one can indulge in the darkest sexual fantasies imaginable. Like Mos Eisley, Tor is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate uses for the network (it’s popular among political dissidents under repressive regimes.) But all in all, it’s not a place to take the kids.
Due to the near impossibility of tracing someone using the network, Tor users engaging in illicit activities are usually caught because they’ve made some dumb mistake along the way. Because even with programs like Tor that are in theory foolproof, the weakest link in the security chain remains the human being.
It’s safe to say that in a matter of weeks a new site will take Silk Road’s place in the digital black market. This one raid does not change the fact that there are people who want drugs and people who want to sell drugs, and that they will always find a way to get together to do business. But when it comes to maintaining a low profile, sites like the Silk Road that are doing more than a billion dollars in drug deals while openly flaunting their existence are almost asking to get busted. The credibility of law enforcement everywhere is called into question when sites like these are allowed to operate with impunity. And from the government’s point of view, that cannot be allowed.