DarkNet: A thriving marketplace for criminal transactions – from narcotics to terrorism
Ross Ulbricht, 30, the operator of the Silk Road online marketplace for illegal substances, was convicted on all seven counts brought against him before a Manhattan court earlier this month. They included every type of hard drugs, money laundering, criminal conspiracy, terrorism and hacking – all transacted in virtual bitcoin currency. The FBI dubbed Silk Road the e-Bay of dope.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 15, but meanwhile, US marshals will auction off Ulbricht’s 50,000 bitcoin hoard on March 5.
In a separate legal process, Ulbricht was accused of using the alias of “Dread Pirate Roberts” to solicit murder, with the help of an undercover police officer.
Our cyber expert notes that DarkNet operates as the hidden bottom floor of the legal, public world web. Widely used by sophisticated criminal organizations and spooks, it conducts a lively trade in stolen official data, false identities, fake credit cards, firearms and ammo, as well as biological and chemical weapons. Also found there are hard porno, including materials for pedophiles and snuff videos.
A substantial part of the illicit international drug traffic is routed through DarkNet, including the logistics of production, marketing, payment collection and money laundering. It is accessed through The Tor “routing onion,” the open sesame for surfers seeking prohibited services.
This subterranean site was originally developed by the US Navy for the safe, undetectable transfer of secret communications. Its main difference from ordinary web sites is that it is constructed like an onion and operates through many layers of computers which transfer encrypted messages from one layer to the next until they reach their destination. This method is designed to seal the message’s secrecy against interception or decryption en route.
The DarkNet system operates a number of marketplaces for its forbidden wares. One of the best known was Silk Road, which has now been shut down.
debkafile’s cyber experts report that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies make a point of deliberately parading their weaknesses in countering the ulterior levels of the Internet. The FBI repeatedly complains that doesn’t have the resources for tracing criminal and terrorist activity through the Internet.
Our experts suspect these agencies “protest too much” to cover up their real occupation, which is to steer the internet underworld into the waiting arms of National Security Agency (NSA) researchers and monitors.
Much of its software originated in the first place with US government agencies. It was they who created the algorithms for transferring data and designed the TOR protocol and the Topology network.
In the second place, various NSA programs are deeply entrenched in the nether regions of the Internet, reaching into the hubs carried by Internet servers and able to “see” almost every transaction, mail, surf or download taking place anywhere in the world.
These capabilities do not exactly confirm the claims by US agencies that their oversight is severely limited.
Neither does the manner in which “Pirate Roberts” was finally run to ground in a San Francisco public library.
Although Ross was a computer and programming genius, he needed help for solving a technical glitch on his servers. Through a questions-and-answers site, he accessed stackoverflow.com and made the mistake of using his real name. Two minutes later, he corrected his user name to frosty@frosty.
It was that which finally landed him in hot water, because it was identical to the last part of the servers’ encryption key found at his home.
Ross Ulbricht’s New York trial was widely reported and publicized – especially after the jury quickly reached a unanimous verdict of guilty. However, since then, the traffic on DarkNet traffic has not subsided. In fact the volume of illicit trade in dangerous drugs, trafficking in people and body parts, the supply of aberrant pornography, stolen financial data, and conventional and unconventional means of warfare, expands all the time.