As the first Silk Road criminal conviction was brought about last week, I decided to see what kind of goods could really be bought and sold there. Here's what I found...
When storming through the Ethernet cable and into government servers to pilfer top secret documents, hacker groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec need a place to lay low after doing it “for teh lulz” in order to plan their next mission without being watched by the authorities. So where do they go when the work is done? The truth is it’s a place shared with arms dealers, terrorists and drug traffickers. Welcome to the world of the “Dark Web”, a secretive fold within the internet where you can buy automatic machineguns and kilos of cocaine using a currency that no government in the land can regulate, all via an ecommerce site known as “Silk Road”.
I’ve managed to access the Dark Web to see what can really be purchased on the notorious Silk Road website. Although Rupert Murdoch’s remaining newspapers have been hammering home the idea that it’s an Amazon for criminals, it’s actually more of an eBay for lunatics, gun enthusiasts, drug users, small time arms dealers and some very interesting people.
Getting in is not the easiest thing to do, but you don’t need to be anywhere near as tech savvy as the papers would have you believe. At school I spent IT lessons trying not to get caught playing Gold Miner and my final project was Microsoft’s Wikipedia page copy-and-pasted onto one PowerPoint slide – I managed to access Silk Road in about 15 minutes.
It’s actually more of an eBay for lunatics, gun enthusiasts, drug users, small time arms dealers and some very interesting people.
Firstly you have to download a program known as Tor (The onion router), which basically opens the gateway into this untraceable internet within the internet that is the Dark Web. The Tor client allows you to stay hidden in a virtual secret hideout by relaying its traffic through network upon network of servers situated all over the world. This apparently makes it almost impossible to trace the user’s true location and identity and was created specifically for this purpose. The irony of Tor is that the US Navy actually funded the project in its infancy, and now the FBI is trying to shut it down.
After finding the .onion Dark Web address for Silk Road, I typed it into the browser Tor opens once it’s been loaded and hit enter. At first you’re greeted with an almost blank webpage with a few boxes on it and a captcha. It’s quite straightforward though, I signed up as Cult Leader (as you do) and was instantly given access to Silk Road and all its illegal glory.
Aesthetically, Silk Road looks like something you could create using Notepad and a fairly vague knowledge of HTML, but in a way this adds to the intrigue of it – you can almost tell it’s been made in a darkened basement by geeks in ski-masks with switch screen monitors and knuckle duster belt buckles.
It doesn’t take long to see the appeal of Silk Road for so many of its users. You can literally buy everything from genuine British passports, crystal meth and C4 explosives to lock picks, 999 gold bullion bars and flick knives disguised as house keys – all without stepping foot outside onto the estate. Being a fully online service gives customers the reassurance that they’re not going to get bashed over the head and left with their pockets turned out upon purchase, which is most likely why Silk Road is so successful.
You can literally buy everything from genuine British passports, crystal meth and C4 explosives to lock picks, 999 gold bullion bars and flick knives disguised as house keys.
To start off my imaginary criminal shopping spree, I browsed Silk Road’s weapons site: “The Armoury”. Here vendors are selling mostly guns and ammunition, such as a Polish self-assemble AK47 machine gun for 207 Bitcoins, which is roughly $1000 in the current market (the value of Bitcoin fluctuates massively).
But amongst the Glock 19 handguns and rounds of Luger ammunition was 6lbs of C4 plastic explosives for $104 from a guy who claims to be “pretty big in black marketing” in New Zealand. I messaged him asking if there was any way to obtain more than just 6lbs. The conversation is as follows:
Me: I was just wondering if there would ever be a possibility of buying C4 in bulk, as opposed to just 6lbs worth.
C4 salesman: Yeah sure, I have another buyer looking at 25lbs though, so it may take a bit longer for yours to arrive. How much do you need? I am willing to lower the price per pound on a larger purchase.
Something like 100 lbs, how long would that take? Is it genuine C4 though? Like proper explosives?
Shit that’s loads… you taking out China? I would suggest an a-bomb instead. No but that is a lot of C4! What the fuck are you trying to do? I won’t tell the cops or anything, I’d be put away for life. It’s genuine, at that much I’ll chuck in some free blasting caps and detonation cord.
Between me and you, I’m preparing for the zombie apocalypse. It’s coming bro… it’s coming.
I dunno if you’re serious, but either way, sure, go ahead and spend shitloads of money on C4. Also, the best way to take out zombies (in my opinion) is making a pool-like moat around your house filled with sludge: 1 part water, 1 part sugar and 1 part salt. It will destroy the flesh (optional). Also keep a machete, a crowbar, a handmade wooden shield or a hubcap, fly spray (they may carry disease, if that’s the cause of the zombies, and it is highly toxic/flammable stuff), matches, canned beans, a flare gun (optional), a parachute for escapes when you are cornered at a height, rotten meat as a distraction, and a cyanide pill because you don’t wanna die by being ripped apart. A cyanide pill is better (I can actually supply cyanide). I made the list myself, but I’m keeping it because it’s actually quite good. Bullets will just go through them, don’t even bother.
After shooting the bull with the C4 salesman I browsed the rest of his goods which included blowpipe tranquiliser darts, 50ml of Chloroform, a Yugoslavian M59 assault rifle and even a guide on “How to Make Someone Feel Bad” with the description: “I count this under weaponry as it is an attack on the mind” – nice guy.
I then strolled back along Silk Road to the drugs section of the site which is generally considered the main attraction and seems to be the most lucrative for merchants by far. Here you can purchase pure Afghan heroin for $255 a gram, crystal cocaine flakes straight from South America and every kind of methamphetamine, hallucinogen and prescription drug you can imagine. All of which is sent through the post and via airmail to anywhere in the world.
“That is a lot of C4! What the fuck are you trying to do? I won’t tell the cops or anything, I’d be put away for life.”
In a strange way Silk Road is actually doing drug users a good service, because out on the road where dealers will jab a needle in your neck for a bag of pennies or cut their pills with everything from crushed glass to rat poison, you can never really gauge someone’s drug dealing reputation. People are going to take drugs; nothing will ever prevent that, so having a site where they can actually see how good a dealer’s product is by ratings from previous customers, can mean the difference between dying from a dodgy pill and having a great high. And if the worst comes to the worst and the vendor somehow manages to turn on you, a computer virus is a lot less painful than a chest full of burning buckshot.
However, as helpful as it might be to customers, the ratings system is actually one of the most disturbing factors of Silk Road. Here you can see drug addicts rating their last purchase of heroin or Oxycontin or worse. Comments like “great hit, knocked me straight out!” and “this shit is so good I pissed myself after one bowl” are hard to read when only a link away from clean syringes and guides on how to chase the dragon.
As much as the wannabe outlaw in me finds the idea of Silk Road quite exciting, the truth is the guns sold on this site could be used to kill innocent people, and the drugs could be reaching some kid in the suburbs who might not have known how to get hold of them had he not gained access to Silk Road. But it boils down to more than crack rocks, bullets and homemade LSD tabs, Silk Road is an inevitable 21st century creation – guns, drugs and counterfeits are everywhere and for some reason people are shocked that they’re now on the internet as well.
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