The dark web/deep web is a scary and dangerous place. The Silk Road wasn’t one of the scariest websites on the deep web, but it was one of the most popular.
The Silk Road was an online drug marketplace only accessible to users with the Tor browser. You could buy everything from steroids to weed to guns as well as legal goods and services.
But the Silk Road was recently shut down because of a handful of blunders made by the website’s owner, who made millions off the sales of illegal merchandise.
Here are 4 things we learned from the Silk Road shutdown:
4) Tor isn’t just used by bad people
Tor is an encryption software tool that prevents anyone from seeing what you’re doing online. You cannot access the deep web without Tor. For that reason, many people see Tor as an indicator of criminal activity. In reality, Tor is used by people all over the world, including people in countries where they’re not allowed to speak out against the government or access parts of the internet.
Yes, Silk Road was an illegal website. Yes, it was only reachable through Tor. No, that doesn’t mean that Tor is a bad thing that should be abolished. In fact, it’s recommended by many security experts as an effective security measure – especially if you don’t like the NSA peering into your online activities.
Tor is an essential privacy tool for living in a digital world. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
3) Your online past can and will come back to haunt you
The owner and operator of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, was reportedly tracked down by forum posts he made on StackExchange under an online persona he had used in the past. A few tentative connections between that online post and his past usage of that username was enough to implicate Ross as the Silk Road’s owner.
Forum posts were made years apart and came back to harm Ross in a major way. The stuff you upload online today stays online for a long period of time – if not forever.
2) Security agencies haven’t cracked Tor, but they have found ways around it
While the official story behind Ross’s arrest is that he was caught from a few forum posts, there are major rumors flying around that the CIA managed to install tracking software on Silk Road servers. This tracking software was reportedly installed with the help of the NSA and helped police trace anybody who accessed Silk Road – including its owner.
Those reports were first suggested by Nicholas Weaver, who runs PopeHat.com. He argues that security agency officials were able to use the Tor browser to access the Silk Road server and install tracking software on that server – possibly using a zero day exploit.
They didn’t need to get around Tor to install this tracking software, and Tor remains uncracked. However, the fact that government officials could potentially be watching people accessing deep web sites is extremely scary for those who like to use deep web sites (although those who take proper security measures should be safe).
1) The Silk Road sold legal merchandise
The Silk Road was a website dedicated to selling drugs online (approximately 70% of the product listings on the Silk Road were drugs). However, that’s not all Silk Road did. The website also sold guns through a specialized section called the armory and legal goods like art, clothing, cigarettes, and jewelry.
Yes, thanks to the internet, you could buy steroids, cocaine, LSD, a pack of cigarettes, and a book from one single website. Obviously, that’s not what most users did on the website, but legal goods and services were sold through the site.
The Silk Road was the largest online illegal drug operation. It withstood government agency pressure for an astonishingly long time. There are already dozens of competitors to the Silk Road available online, and it will be interesting to see if these competitors learn from the lessons of the Silk Road shutdown.