If one can deal with the technical set of hoops it takes to get there, fans of illegal drug use (who isn't?) can have their


"Silk Road" Website Is the Amazon of the Illegal-Drug Market

If one can deal with the technical set of hoops it takes to get there, fans of illegal drug use (who isn't?) can have their minds blown on a little website called Silk Road.

In this glorious portal of illicit commerce, a user can search listings for drug dealers and buy everything from weed to cocaine to Ecstasy and heroin. They can read reviews from past clients of dealers and view photos of the drugs they sell.

And when one has isolated a particular product worth purchasing, that person can complete an untraceable transaction that will send cash to the dealer and, later, drugs to their house.

Gawker reports today:

About three weeks ago, the U.S. Postal Service delivered an ordinary envelope to Mark's door. Inside was a tiny plastic bag containing 10 tabs of LSD. "If you had opened it, unless you were looking for it, you wouldn't have even noticed," Mark told us in a phone interview.

Mark, a software developer, had ordered the 100 micrograms of acid through a listing on the online marketplace Silk Road. He found a seller with lots of good feedback who seemed to know what they were talking about, added the acid to his digital shopping cart and hit "check out." He entered his address and paid the seller 50 Bitcoins--untraceable digital currency--worth around $150. Four days later the drugs, sent from Canada, arrived at his house.

Getting to the Silk Road site is not as easy as punching in the URL. First one has to download the encrypted browser service Tor, which itself is a complicated affair. But once the pleasantries are completed, the site is there, and, frankly, it looks too good to be true.

Here's a screenshot.

silk road01.jpg

Reviews of transactions note the packaging and potency of the drugs and the customer-service chops of the dealer. Transactions are rated by users on a scale of one to five stars, and popular sellers inevitably get more business.

The money is handled through a third party "crypto-currency" system in which a user purchases "Bitcoins" (do so here), then trades them for the drugs.

UPDATE: Jeff Garzik of Bitcoin writes to tell us that using crypto-currency like Bitcoin is not at all foolproof. In fact, he thinks using the online currency to buy illegal drugs is "pretty damned dumb."

With bitcoin, every transaction is written to a globally public log, and the lineage of each coin is fully traceable from transaction to transaction. Thus, /transaction flow/ is easily visible to well-known network analysis techniques, already employed in the field by FBI/NSA/CIA/etc. to detect suspicious money flows and "chatter." With Gavin, bitcoin lead developer, speaking at a CIA conference this month, it is not a stretch to surmise that the CIA likely already classifies bitcoin as open-source intelligence (no pun intended).

Further, if Silk Road truly permits deposits on their site, that makes it even easier for law enforcement to locate the "hub" of transactions.

Attempting major illicit transactions with bitcoin, given existing statistical analysis techniques deployed in the field by law enforcement, is pretty damned dumb. :)

The weak spot in all of this appears to be with the drug purchasers themselves, who must provide an address to which dealers can send the dope.

And now that the lid is essentially blown off the secrecy of Silk Road (thank Gawker, not us), one can expect that sooner or later folks who buy drugs on the site will be seeing something other than a friendly UPS man at their door.

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