The Silk Road is an historical network of interlinking trade routes that extends 6400km across the Afro-Eurasian landmass, connecting East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa. Gaining its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade which was carried and traded along its length, the Silk Road first came to prominence during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). But the Silk Road which will be the focus of this post first came to prominence in the Digital Dynasty and bears little resemblance to the aforementioned, save for perhaps its lucrative nature.
The (neo) Silk Road is an online market place that in short, allows you to buy a whole range of illicit substances as if they were a used book on eBay. However, what makes this such a revolutionary idea, is that doing so poses little to no risk to the buyer. In effect, it is Amazon if Amazon sold mind altering chemicals and protected the identity of its buyers. So, actually, it’s nothing like Amazon…
Via the utilisation of some of today’s latest technologies, including crypto currency Bitcoin and the anonymizing network “Tor”, The Silk Road operates online, is accessible on the very same computer you are no doubt reading this from and as the clincher, provides an impenetrable invisibility cloak on loan and free of charge. As the lack of non-anonymity is a legitimate hurdle to success in this line of business, the stars seemed to have aligned with a wealth of tech becoming available simultaneously, which has made it possible for people who are purchasing these goods online to be able to relax when there is a rat-a-tat-tat at the door. Furthermore, being the ever consummate professionals The Silk Road has put the buyer at the forefront of the online experience allowing users to purchase almost whatever they please in easy to afford and easy to handle quantities. For example: An ounce of Afghani hash; or if you prefer – an 1/8th ounce of “sour 13” weed; If disco is more your thang -one seller advertises 14 grams of ecstasy; but if losing your soul is more your go – 0.1 grams tar heroin can be bought for a bargain basement price and the list goes on and on.
Whilst the possibilities as to the type of shady exchange that could take place are in effect limitless, Silk Road, in an uncharacteristic display of restraint, has set limits. This is just as well, given the limits really only extend to the sale or purchase of “anything whose purpose is to harm or defraud”. Thus, those who are licking their chops and want to unload a stolen credit card, unleash Liam Neeson in Taken as a master assassin or get in touch with the brotherhood and unload weapons of mass destruction – you will be let down. But with so much else at your fingertips on the site, by all means feel free to lose your mind and forget about what a pity it is you will never be able to buy Mr. Neeson.
But the professionalism and restraint of the online black market goes further still, employing the rigours of user generated feedback to avoid the taking over of the site by scammers and con artists. As when the proposition of actually taking part in this transaction begins to raise its ugly head, it won’t be a stretch for you to realise the site could be a haven for those looking to defraud individuals out of their hard earned. This is because once the money/bitcoins are sent on their merry way, the outcome or lack thereof should your drug dealer decide to reneg on her offer (surely not?), is absolutely consequence free. I mean, who will hear your cries that you were duped in the purchase of a quantity of highly illegal narcotics? Thus in summarising the benefits of The Silk Road over traditional methods of buying drugs, Silk Road has some fairly major chips in its corner. Drugs delivered conveniently and without fear of reprisal to your door step, for your simple indulgence, at your earliest pleasure. If this stuff is for you, I imagine they are some fairly compelling points.
Thus with the benefits firmly tucked into our loose hoodies, we can now move on to the maven of innovation who made this highway of dependence possible. Whilst the exact leadership structure of The Silk Road is a well shrouded mystery, it is safe to say the bulk of the ever-increasing sales commissions go to Silk Road’s head administrator, known as Dread Pirate Roberts. If the name rings a bell, be careful who you admit that to, as the Dread Pirate Robert you are thinking of is almost certainly the fictional pirate who is feared across the seven seas for his ruthlessness and sword fighting prowess in none other than – wait for it – the fictional novel The Princess Bride. Yes. The Princess Bride.
Below is an artists impression of D.P.R.
If you are not surprised, you haven’t seen the movie.
But it is with somewhat cringe worthy acknowledgement that the fictional D.P.R and the very real tech genius D.P.R. share more than a few personal harmonies. Both are feared across the lands. Both operate with little regard for authority. Both look to operate in their trade indefinitely and both will retire very rich or in gaol. Or both. This last point has been driven home by Carnegie Mellon researcher Nicolas Christin, who by tracking the sites transactions has shown that for the six months of February to August of 2012 no less than $11m of “goods” (or “bads” as my moustache and I like to call them) were traded using the platform. Some quick math and a bit of extrapolation will show that this likely earned the site’s operators, who get a cut of each transaction, around $143,000(U.S) a month in commissions—or $1.7 million U.S a year. So don’t be fooled into thinking this is a mickey mouse operation with a clandestine membership- it is a veritable boom time for online drug sales and if you’re not yet on it, your mother is probably beating you to it.
What’s more, The Silk Road continues to grow at an alarming pace. 1,400 sellers were active over the period of Christins research and with around “50 new active sellers per month” registering on the site, this number of sellers is rapidly growing. In response to this burgeoning demand and to add a form of legitimacy to the site, D.P.R. has recently cast his queer eye over the site and commissioned a badly needed make-over. With a host of improvements designed to make the transactions seamless and the buyer blissfully ignorant of the possible ramifications of their transactions, The Silk Road has never looked better. On the upgrade, our scurgy dog Dread Pirate Roberts had this to say:
“I feel it (the new site upgrade) matches the integrity and professionalism of our community and the robust technology that empowers it. New comers will now have the confidence they need to take that leap of faith and make their first purchase.”
Like any savvy businessman, D.P.R. is putting his earnings back into his operation.
However, as your eyes grow wide and you begin spending the money you haven’t yet made or getting high on drugs you haven’t yet bought, accessing the Silk Road is not as easy as simply pointing your browser in the right direction and picking from the digital shelf of illegal narcotics. Getting to Silk Road is tricky. It requires two things:
- The technical skills needed to configure the anonymizing software TOR – which I’m told isn’t as easy as inserting a floppy disk and accepting the terms and conditions
- And two, the cajones of a proverbial Spanish fighting bull in heat.
But one things is clear. The tension surrounding who D.P.R is continues to tighten. Although hailed as a hero by those who believe in freedom of choice (- read those who like to buy drugs in peace) D.P.R. continues to shy away from the spot light. In a recent response to a call for him/her/it to come forward, D.P.R. responded in a circumspect tone befitting the status he/she/it now enjoys; “Because my life, liberty and mission are more important to me than fame, convenience or comfort [ I will not reveal my identity to you peasants]”. And then there is the minor point of the hundreds of laws he is breaking…
So whilst less than satisfying response from Roberts doesn’t answer any of our questions, the net continues to tighten. By no fault of D.P.R.’s, the authorities are now convinced that there are only a handful of people in the world with the capabilities to pull this stunt off. Whilst this is a cool fact, it is also a damning one as the list is complete and in the hands of none other than the pesky pigs. But if The Silk Road were to shut tomorrow, one must sit and admire the disruption a tech nerd has once again rained down upon the civilised world from the safety of his bedroom.
NB: As I care about the readership of Me and My Moustache, before any brazen acts of e-commerce on the digital black market are confirmed, it is worth noting that Jeff Garzik, a member of the Bitcoin core development team, states that bitcoin is not as anonymous as the denizens of Silk Road would like to believe. He explains that because all Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public log, though the identities of all the parties are anonymous, law enforcement could use sophisticated network analysis techniques to trace the transaction flow and track down individual Bitcoin users.
“Attempting major illicit transactions with bitcoin, given existing statistical analysis techniques deployed in the field by law enforcement, is pretty damned dumb,” he says.
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- Is the Drug Enforcement Agency closing in on Silk Road? (dailydot.com)
- best way to buy oxycontin online (buyoxycontinonlineshopping.wordpress.com)
- Drug Enforcement Agency Seizes First Bitcoins From Silk Road Dealer (gizmodo.com)