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The Almighty Buck The Internet Crime News

Online Narcotics Store 'Silk Road' Is Showing Cracks 330

Posted by Soulskill
from the until-the-internet-routes-around-the-cracks dept.
pigrabbitbear writes "It always sounded like a hoax, didn't it? Silk Road: an Internet website where you can buy any drug in the world? Yeah, right. But it's real. It was almost two years ago that we first heard about the site, which hosts everything from Adderall to Ketamine, LSD to MDMA and tons and tons of weed. After it started to pick up a ton of press and exposure, we all thought that certainly the Silk Road would get shut down. It's super illegal to sell drugs or even to help people sell drugs. But it didn't. Silk Road survives to this day. However, with the arrival this week of the first conviction of a Silk Road-related crime, you have to wonder if Silk Road's days might be numbered after all. The trouble is brewing in Australia, where a guy named Paul Leslie Howard is facing as many as five years in prison for selling drugs on Silk Road. We're not talking millions of dollars worth of drugs, but we are talking about thousands of dollars worth. And just as Silk Road natives had feared, Howard was one of those Silk Road n00bs who read a newspaper article about the site and decided to try it out for himself."
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Online Narcotics Store 'Silk Road' Is Showing Cracks

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  • by sagematt (1251956) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:18PM (#42764751)
    Showing crack just now? But that's like a staple drug.
    • by xevioso (598654)

      Drugs for staples? What kind of drug would a staple need? It's job is to hold reams of paper together securely. Unless the staple has ADHD I would think it could live a drug-free life.

  • by Corwn of Amber (802933) <corwinofamber@ s k y n e t .be> on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:19PM (#42764787) Journal

    SilkRoad is a sort of eBay for drugs. One guy was caught selling drugs, big deal : there are still thousand of others selling drugs on the site. It's like saying "Craigslist is DOOMED : a date rapist was caught using it!"

    • by Synerg1y (2169962) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:36PM (#42765005)
      Craiglist is used for mostly legal things, the silk road exists only to serve an "illegal" purpose, which is selling drugs. I'm not all that familiar with how they stay anonymous, but if there's a way to unravel that system, it would come through cases like this most likely. I think this guy got busted for selling drugs outside the silk road, as per the article, and was overall a stupid drug dealer. A quote about human stupidity and why we can't have nice things (for a user the Silk Road is heaven.. till they OD) is in order I suppose.
      • by Githaron (2462596) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:53PM (#42765253)
        I have heard of similar hacking sites that using Onion sites to host their stores within the Tor network anonymously. I would assume they do something similar. The same protocols are used to protect online political activists and speech in repressed countries. Anonymity brings out both the best and worst of society.
        • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Friday February 01, 2013 @05:26PM (#42765561) Homepage Journal

          This explains a lot of the postings on the Onion [theonion.com].

          America's "highest" news source, apparently.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 01, 2013 @05:55PM (#42765845)

          Anonymity brings out both the best and worst of society.

          I disagree. I think that anonymity just brings out the human condition in general. Your judgement thereupon is yours, and yours alone.

          Many people feel the need to hide who they are from the world, and are able to express their needs in an anonymous setting. Whether that need is to express their frustration with a corrupt totalitarian regime, or self-medicate with substances frowned upon by a government, or even simply to call somebody a fuckwad [penny-arcade.com] for whatever motivation compels them, anonymity does nothing but lay bare the desires of a person when they feel nobody is looking and judging. If you feel any of those are prima facie good or bad, it's difficult to know without understanding the context that person is coming from. Maybe buying pot helps the person with anxiety, maybe calling somebody a fuckwad is somebody's only outlet in life, maybe that struggling dissident is a con artist who simply wishes to weave a tale of woe... you can't know. Which is the beauty of anonymity.

          Posted anonymously for hopefully obvious reasons :-)

        • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Friday February 01, 2013 @11:01PM (#42768513)

          While I have never used any illegal substance, I strongly object to lumping the silk road with the worst of society. (That is, if you're doing so; if not, I apologize.) If somebody wants to get high, that's their own business. The government doesn't own them, and therefore doesn't have the right to control their consumption.

          I'm tired of this government that sees fit to ban buckyballs, trans fats, msg, sugary soda's, drugs, and soon to be firearms. All in the name of safety. I remember during the Bush years, dissent was called patriotic, people were making a huge stink about even one single civilian death overseas, code pink was always in the news, and people were shouting endlessly for the closing of GTMO. The frequently mis-attributed to Ben Franklin mis-quote about liberty and safety was used daily.

          Yet just recently, the New York Times is demanding that the administration lay down the law. People on slashdot even tell me that I don't need soda. Hollywood unions now have more power than ever to restrict internet communication. Obama just dismantled the office he set up to close GTMO.

          Seriously, what the hell? When they came for the buckyballs, we said nothing.

      • by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:57PM (#42765293)
        There are plenty of things on Silk Road, which are completely legal. Silk Road exists for its anonymous feature, not necessarily illegal.
        • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Friday February 01, 2013 @06:13PM (#42766021) Homepage Journal

          Category | Pct.
          -----------------
          Weed | 13.7%
          Drugs | 9.0%
          Prescription | 7.3%
          Benzos | 4.9%
          Books | 3.9%
          Cannabis | 3.6%
          Hash | 3.4%
          Cocaine | 2.6%
          Pills | 1.9%
          Blotter (LSD) | 1.8%
          Money | 1.7%
          MDMA (ecstasy) | 1.6%
          Erotica | 1.6%
          Steroids, PEDs | 1.5%
          Seeds | 1.5%
          Heroin | 1.5%
          DMT | 1.4%
          Opioids | 1.4%
          Stimulants | 1.2%
          Digital goods | 1.1%

          Items sold stat from http://arxiv.org/abs/1207.7139 [arxiv.org] (research conducted about SR)

          There may be a marginal legit use, but the vast majority of items is illegal, mostly contraband drugs. And if you read the site's wiki it is clear that they aim for "illicit activities".

          It is surprising though that the largest market seems to be "soft drugs" and meds (probably pain killer addictions).

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <(mojo) (at) (world3.net)> on Friday February 01, 2013 @06:13PM (#42766043) Homepage

          I think you will find that the summary clearly states that Silk Road is not just illegal, it's super illegal. I find the summary is generally pretty reliable in these matters.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:37PM (#42765029)
      1. "Showing cracks" doesn't mean "doomed."

      2. It's not too hard to come up with a scenario where a lot of silk road's buisiness is scared off by a few criminal charges like this. Craigslist was no doubt concerned that a few people getting murdered would cause customers to bolt out of irrational fear.

      3. This is the first time evidently someone has gotten arrested for it. It probably won't be the last. I'm not familiar with how silk road works. I'm guessing there are barriers to try to prevent law enforcement or other criminals from using it to find out when and where drug transactions are going to be happening. I'm also guessing those barriers are not foolproof.
      • by icebike (68054) on Friday February 01, 2013 @05:14PM (#42765429)

        3. This is the first time evidently someone has gotten arrested for it. It probably won't be the last. I'm not familiar with how silk road works. I'm guessing there are barriers to try to prevent law enforcement or other criminals from using it to find out when and where drug transactions are going to be happening. I'm also guessing those barriers are not foolproof.

        Chances are Silk Road is crawling with cops. But they are not focused on catching buyers or occasional sellers, but are more focused on catching the bigger distributors. Probably they don't even cite Silk as their principal source when prosecuting. Hard to prove much of anything on the internet to a jury, easier to trot in some Joe Undercover cop and have him explain a (probably at least half truthful) account of how he came to know about those deals, without mentioning that first info came via silk.

        One off buys are not worth chasing.

    • Summary: This guy goes on silk road and buys drugs in Europe and gets it mailed to himself in Australia. Consider how easy it is for him now to get caught picking up the drugs. Silk Road is still an awesome anonymous place for people selling whatever legal or illegal products. It's the pick up that is tricky. Speaking of which, there are plenty of legal things on silk road, or at least legal in the originating country.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by juliannoble (1154079)
        Technology will eventually solve the pickup problem too. e.g For same-city deals - mid-air quadrocopter-drone handover - complete with decoy drones and last-minute randomized meeting coordinates. City airspace will be abuzz with these things one day!
    • It's just hard to believe that, in an economic sense, even with all the invasive gov't and corporate snooping and tracking...even with all that, SilkRoad exists.

      It's a truth of economics...the black market **will certainly** exist in any human system. Heh...in Soviet Russian the side supplies YOU

      Seriously look at Soviet Russia. They had strict authoritarian controls inside, and embargoes outside, yet 'yankee blue jeans' and Marlboros were ubiquitous to the point of being parodied (Berserker!)

      The black marke

      • by PRMan (959735)
        Blue jeans weren't ubiquitous. When I went at the end of the Soviet Era (1991), blue jeans were so rare that I saw a guy get $50 US for a store brand of jeans that nobody in the US would be caught dead wearing. And people wanted to buy my sneakers right off my feet. But the Black Market was thriving, that's for sure.
      • by oxdas (2447598)

        The funny thing is that it exists and can stay anonymous thanks to a system designed by the United States government (DARPA to be exact). The network still gets most of its funding from the U.S. government.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:25PM (#42764851)

    Trusting that the person you are buying from or selling to is not a cop or is actually going to provide what they claim seems insane. If you are a buying you have to give a place to send the drugs and a seller has to get those drugs to that place. Either option seems fraught with chances to get caught.

    This violates every idea about never getting caught; everyone you don't know is a cop, all phones are tapped, etc.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:27PM (#42764861) Homepage

      Howard got caught last summer from the simplest mistake. He had a shitload of drugs sent to his house.

      It's always the last mile problem.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      a seller has to get those drugs to that place.

      Just put it in a box with sufficient postage and a false return address. Drop it in an unattended mail drop box. Done.

    • by olip85 (1770514)

      Trusting that the person you are buying from or selling to is not a cop or is actually going to provide what they claim seems insane. If you are a buying you have to give a place to send the drugs and a seller has to get those drugs to that place. Either option seems fraught with chances to get caught.

      This violates every idea about never getting caught; everyone you don't know is a cop, all phones are tapped, etc.

      Sellers have a reputation so if a buyer limits himself to sellers with 99% reputation who have already sold to thousands of other happy customers, like you would do on eBay, it would greatly mitigate the risks.

    • by houghi (78078)

      That is what you would think. yet many people get shafted by selling things via ebay or buying from ebay. Yet seldom anybody gets caught.

      Sure, this is much worse, because this is two people who something they both want against the law. Ebay scams are just between two people, so why go after those?

  • User error. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:26PM (#42764859) Journal

    If you get caught selling drugs on Silk Road it's entirely your own fault. You can use the site anonymously with Tor. You can receive funds anonymously with Bitcoin. You can send drugs anonymously by dropping it in an unattended mailbox.

    Now for the people buying drugs it's a whole different story. You have to show up in person and pick up the drugs. You don't know who you're dealing with, so there could easily be a cop waiting for you when you go to get it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, TFA says he got caught because he had several INCOMING packages intercepted by LE which lead to a raid on his house. TFA does not discuss how he was found out, so we don't know if it was poorly concealed shipping, mail drug dogs, snitch, or his own security fuckup. Neither buying nor selling drugs online is foolproof, there will always be a risk -- just like buying and selling drugs IRL.

    • In TFA, he was importing drugs via Silk Road from Europe and then selling it in Australia. It doesn't say how he got busted, but I'm assuming that drug sniffing dogs at the post office probably got him busted. This guy was an idiot and deserved to get caught.
    • by sjames (1099)

      I imagine the smart ones get them delivered to a vacant house a couple of neighborhoods away.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But bitcoin transfers are pseudonymously.
      Everyone must know about all transactions. But they only see pseudonyms in the form of account ids.
      Search for papers analysing the transaction graphs on google scholar for details. I.e. http://eprint.iacr.org/2012/584.pdf

      Now exchanging your bitcoins for traditional currency or physical goods without telling the world the real identity behind that pseudonym... thats the hard part.
      It just takes one mistake to link your pseudonym to your real identity and all past trans

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        Wasn't there some transaction laundry service that would take your bitcoins and split and recombine them and shuffle them around so much that the transaction history was difficult to follow?

  • It just seems to me that obtaining goods/services physically is just naturally more open to observation/interception. I would think this was obvious.

  • 'n00b' ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:30PM (#42764905)

    You misspelled 'idiot'.

  • by gallondr00nk (868673) on Friday February 01, 2013 @04:31PM (#42764927)

    I don't see how the prosecution of one person spells the end for a website, or an entire online trade.

    It's a little bit like saying busting one dealer will bring down the entire drug trade in a country. The Silk Road, or other sites like it (which I imagine the savvier users will have switched to as soon as the Silk Road got media heat), will continue for as long as there's a demand.

    Just legalise it all already.

    • It's a little bit like saying busting one dealer will bring down the entire drug trade in a country. The Silk Road, or other sites like it (which I imagine the savvier users will have switched to as soon as the Silk Road got media heat), will continue for as long as there's a demand.

      If you were a cop trying to catch drug dealers with invisibility cloaks, you'd brag and make an example of a stupid one you caught too.

  • by swilde23 (874551) on Friday February 01, 2013 @05:02PM (#42765329) Journal

    His tearful wife told Judge Murphy she faced returning to the US if her husband was jailed because she could not work or support herself.

    • by PRMan (959735)
      Wow. The USA has really fallen more than I thought. "Don't send me back to...the US!"
  • by terec (2797475) on Friday February 01, 2013 @05:55PM (#42765841)

    Governments hate anonymity and payments they can't track, and they are just itching for excuses like "drugs" and "child pornography" to push through regulations to outlaw efforts like bitcoin and tor.

    • by oxdas (2447598)

      And yet onion networks were developed by DARPA (U.S. government) and Tor is still largely funded by the U.S. government. While I would like to agree with you in principle, in this instance the government made the Silk Road's anonymity possible (of course selling drugs, prositution, hitmen, etc. isn't the primary goal of the network).

  • by Midnight_Falcon (2432802) on Friday February 01, 2013 @08:18PM (#42767343)

    His bust has to do with interdiction of the package -- which is how they've been finding drug dealers for decades now.

    If he left evidence at his home, or on his home computer due to lack of encryption, of use of the Silk Road, then that's why they found it. Sounds like basic human intelligence methods to me -- with no real connection to the Silk Road. Everyone knew these risks were present and I don't think it's going to change much.

  • by LF11 (18760) on Saturday February 02, 2013 @04:52PM (#42773155) Homepage

    I am very surprised at how much ignorance is evident about the Silk Road marketplace. Slashdot is supposed "News for Nerds," but there is a lot of technophobia splashed all over the comments section of this story.

    1) Silk Road is only accessible via Tor. I would expect the average Slashdot viewer to be more aware of Tor, and the security and anonymity it offers.

    2) Silk Road exclusively uses BitCoin for its transactions. To any average crypto-nerd, or even a beginning crypto-nerd like myself, BitCoin is a marvelous application of cryptology in a social environments. Is there really this much ignorance of BitCoin even in a highly-tech-aware venue such as Slashdot?

    3) Silk Road customers and sellers and strongly encouraged to encrypt all communications with PGP, and PGP use is routine on that marketplace. Of all things, this should immediately pique the curiousity of any security-minded technophile. Isn't widespread adoption of PGP one of the long-term ideals in the security world?

    Security, anonymity, encryption, peer-to-peer ... how come so few people have ever seriously looked at this remarkably post-technological creation? Regardless of your interest in drugs, from a freedom/liberty/technology standpoint, Silk Road is pretty amazing.

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