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That was fast: 2 sites vie for Silk Road’s criminal customers

silk road fbi ulbricht sheep marketplace bmr replacements black market reloaded

U.S. law enforcement agents served tech-savvy drug users a major dose of buzzkill this week by shutting down Silk Road, a ‘dark Web’ site considered the world’s largest online marketplace for illegal drugs. The site’s alleged owner, previously known only as “Dread Pirate Roberts” or “DPR,” has been arrested on multiple felony counts and unmasked as 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, a San Francisco engineer.

The first criminal complaint against Ulbricht (pdf), filed in New York, lists his charges as one count each of narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.

Ulbricht also allegedly tried to hire hitmen to kill two people who threatened his anonymity – one a user who tried to blackmail him, the other a former employee who’d been arrested. A separate indictment filed in Maryland charges him with conspiracy to commit murder of a witness, use of interstate commerce in murder-for-hire, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, and aiding and abetting.

Experts believe that, if convicted, Ulbricht faces life in prison on the drug charges alone. 

Ross William Ulbricht, the alleged kingpin behind the Silk Road
Ross William Ulbricht, the alleged kingpin behind the Silk Road

But Ulbricht is far from the only person affected by Silk Road’s demise. News of the FBI’s Silk Road seizure has sent many of its users into a cold-sweat hysteria, with buyers and vendors anxiously wondering whether police will be knocking on their doors next. (In fact, reports of Silk Road vendors “disappearing” and otherwise being arrested have already begun to flow in.) Some users have offered sage security and safety advice to the community, while others spread wishful conspiracy theories about the FBI snagging the wrong Dread Pirate Roberts. 

(Ed. note: I’ve removed the links to Reddit’s Silk Road community that were previously embedded in the paragraph above to avoid potential privacy concerns.)

Many others – despite the clear and present danger of going to jail staring them right in the face – have simply moved on to other sites to buy drugs, fake IDs, firearms, and a slew of other illicit items once available on Silk Road. And it seems that two such online outlets are competing to fill the void.

Like the Silk Road, both sites are only accessible through the Tor network, not the regular Internet. Add in the illicit nature of these sites, and you can surely understand why I’m not linking to either. If you want to check them out yourself, it’s not particularly difficult to do so – and signing up for both is as easy as creating any new online account.

Sheep Marketplace

Sheep Marketplace

The first is known as Sheep Marketplace, which boasts 14 categories of goods people can buy. The most poplar category is, of course, drugs, which currently lists more than 850 products available for purchase – roughly triple the amount available early on Wednesday, before the Silk Road shutdown – including various strains of marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and other psychedelics.

Other active categories include services (money, logistics, sex), data (piracy, software, digital goods), and jewelry (mostly of the diamonds and gold variety).

Some users are wary of Sheep Marketplace for two reasons. First is that fact that Sheep Marketplace has not been around for very long, meaning it could be a honeypot set up by federal agents. Second, the site has apparently not yet built in an escrow feature, like the one provided by Silk Road, which holds buyers’ Bitcoins, a popular anonymous digital currency, used for purchases until the vendor delivers the ordered goods. Instead, Bitcoins are transferred directly, opening the door for scams. That said, Sheep Marketplace developers are allegedly working on building in an escrow feature – but that still doesn’t resolve suspicion about the site being controlled by law enforcement.

BlackMarket Reloaded 

BlackMarket Reloaded

Better known as BMR, BlackMarket Reloaded offers the same types of illegal items as Sheep Marketplace, with all the various narcotics. Only BMR has roughly three times as many products to choose from in the drug category – around 3,000 products in total – and seems to have more activity overall. I didn’t access BMR early enough to notice any significant jump in activity or an increase in product availability, but some forum users have indicated that dealers who sold on Silk Road have migrated to BMR.

BMR is said to have that Bitcoin escrow feature that Sheep Marketplace currently lacks, according to users. (I certainly didn’t try it out.) That said, quite a few forum posters have indicated a number of scams taking place on BMR as well – plus there’s that whole law enforcement honeypot thing. And some users say they simply prefer Sheep Marketplace over BMR because the former has a cleaner, less outdated-looking design. So there’s that to consider, I guess.

Most of us, I assume, never visited the Silk Road before its inevitable end, and have no intention to jump on the online drug-buying bandwagon now. (At least, I hope not.) Still, it is important to know that, just because one (major) black market gets taken out, it doesn’t mean the elements have gone anywhere far.

(Lead image courtesy eAlisa/Shutterstock)

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Andrew Couts
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Features Editor for Digital Trends, Andrew Couts covers a wide swath of consumer technology topics, with particular focus on…
The crackdown on Internet drug market Silk Road continues
crackdown on online drug market silk road continues

Last week, the FBI arrested the alleged owner of deep Internet drug marketplace Silk Road and seized the website. While replacement sites to get drugs online have already popped up, sellers who used the Silk Road may end up in legal trouble along with their ringleader. 
In Washington State, federal authorities arrested the man they suspect to be "NOD," one of the Silk Road's most high-profile dealers. Steven Lloyd Sadler, 40, of Bellevue, Wash., is now in custody for allegedly peddling cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine in small batches to hundreds of global customers. The complaint (PDF) against Sadler and his roommate Jenna White details how federal agents tracked the defendants both on the ground and on the Silk Road website. 
Sadler isn't the only person in legal trouble for suspected participation on the website. Four men in the U.K. were arrested by the newly formed National Crime Agency  for allegedly selling drugs on the Silk Road, and NCA director Keith Bristow said to expect more arrests in coming weeks. 
Will these arrests dissuade people who want to buy controlled or illegal substances online from doing so in the future? The quick movement to get replacement sites up and running suggests that this crackdown may do more to incentivize online peddlers to increase security rather than abandon the businesses altogether. And since authorities do not have the resources to go after every individual buyer, it's unlikely casual buyers will face legal troubles from their time on the Silk Road, so they may not have a problem switching to another website, especially since the act of ordering drugs online is safer than going out onto the streets to look for it (plus, the quality of the product was often discussed by the Silk Road community, giving buyers a sense of confidence that the drugs they consumed would be pure -- something especially important considering the recent rash of deaths stemming from a supposedly bad batch of MDMA sold on the traditional black market). And supporters of Silk Road are already trolling the FBI by flooding the agency's Bitcoin address with pranks -- not exactly a move that suggests a terrified community. 
So while continued arrests will land some Silk Road sellers in major legal trouble, the online drug market will likely continue and flourish. 

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Silk Road supporters are trolling the FBI with Bitcoin

In the course of taking down online drug supermarket Silk Road and arresting its alleged founder once known only as "Dread Pirate Roberts," the Federal Bureau of Investigation also laid stake to history's largest seizure of Bitcoin, the anonymous digital currency used by Silk Road customers to purchase drugs and other illicit goods. But now the Bitcoin community is fighting back in its own pesky way.
Early on Friday, a member of Reddit's Bitcoin community shared a link to the FBI's public Bitcoin address to which some 27,000 Bitcoin – about $3.75 million, at current exchange rates – seized from Silk Road's bank were deposited over the past few days. Soon after, Bitcoin users began sending the FBI small fractions of Bitcoin along with public comments to the federal law enforcement agency.
A number of the comments include links to news articles about the Central Intelligence Agency supporting the family of drug lords in Afghanistan or helping Contras traffic cocaine in the U.S. A few railed against drug prohibition, while others simply made fart jokes. Some have expressed support for Ross William Ulbricht, the 29-year-old accused of running Silk Road and hiring hitmen to kill two people. And a handful have even used the opportunity to promote their causes and small businesses.
"Tired of donut-eating stereotypes? Buy baklava," wrote one user, who included a link to George's Famous Baklava, where customers can order the rich confection online using Bitcoin.

The first prank message sent to the FBI's Bitcoin address was spelled out in the amount of Bitcoin (BTC) sent – 0.1337 BTC, which reads "leet" in the age-old hacker language leetspeak. Another clever entry spelled 0.08008, which any third grader can decipher.
FBI agents began transferring Bitcoin in amounts as large as 1,000 BTC on October 2, the day the agency seized Silk Road. At the time of this writing, the FBI's Bitcoin address has received 122 transactions, nearly 30 of which apparently come from pranksters.
One question many in the Silk Road community have asked is whether the FBI would return the Bitcoin they lost in the raid. But an agency spokeswoman, speaking with Forbes, quickly laughed off the idea.
"There is not likely to be retribution in this case," she said. "If they're knowingly buying something illegal, they can't get their money back."
Silk Road is said to have collected a total revenue of 9.5 million Bitcoin ($1.2 billion) over its more than two years of operation – a massive number, considering that, as Quartz reports, there are only 11.5 million Bitcoin in existence. Of that 9.5 million BTC, Ulbrict allegedly pocketed as much as $80 million worth in Bitcoin as commission.
The FBI says it expects to liquidate its Bitcoin holdings once the case against Silk Road and Ulbricht has concluded.
(Image courtesy 123dartist/Shutterstock)

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Arrested leader of Silk Road allegedly ordered assassinations as well as drugs
free ross ulbricht hackers

Online drug marketplace Silk Road is no longer open for business -- and its alleged owner is in a lot of trouble. "Dread Pirate Roberts" aka Ross William Ulbricht, 29, has been arrested, and the site is now seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Also seized: $3.6 million in Bitcoin, the electronic currency.  
The FBI arrested Ulbricht in San Francisco on myriad charges, including narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. According to the criminal complaint filed against him, the Dread Pirate was also involved in a murder-for-hire scheme earlier this year against one of the site's users. The complaint states that Ulbricht reached out to another Silk Road user to facilitate the murder of someone who threatened to release the identities of thousands of the site's users. 
The Silk Road operated on the Tor network, or "the onion router," a free software that helps people stay anonymous online. While Tor is a useful tool for journalists, researchers, and anyone concerned with surveillance, it is also used in cybercrime and to operate illicit marketplaces like Silk Road. Since Silk Road users often broke laws by buying and selling controlled substances, anonymity was necessary for the site's survival. 
And Ulbricht appears to have taken the site's survival very seriously. FBI Agent Christopher Tarbell outlined the lengths Ulbricht went to in order to secure the site in his complaint. In addition to the security measures Ulbricht devised to protect users from law enforcement, Tarbell accused Ulbricht of "willingness to use violence to protect his interests in Silk Road." More specifically, Tarbell monitored messages between Dread Pirate Roberts and other users that revealed the scheme to murder a user named FriendlyChemist. 
"I would like to put a bounty on his head if it's not too much trouble for you," Dread Pirate Roberts wrote about the extortion-happy FriendlyChemist, making him the most polite hit orderer this side of the Dark Net. A user called redandwhite agreed to murder FriendlyChemist for between $150,000 to $300,000. Dread Pirate Roberts complained about the price and stated that he had a "clean hit" carried out for $80,000 in the past, implying that he has hired assassins before. 

Dread Pirate Roberts ended up paying the user redandwhite to assassinate FriendlyChemist, who was thought to live in White Rock, British Columbia, although Canadian law enforcement has no record of any homicide occurring. 
Silk Road users will get an unpleasant notice today, since the FBI put a message up on the site about the seizure. Considering rival marketplace Atlantis shut down (and stole users' money) earlier this year, people who buy drugs online are going to have a rough week. 
 The Silk Road's dominance in the digital drug marketplace made it a prominent target for the FBI and other organizations that monitor the drug trade, although until now the site continued operating without any major interference from law enforcement. But with the bevy of charges levied against Ulbricht, it may be a while until a comparable organization gets up and running with impunity. 
These charges may be problematic for Bitcoin as well. The complaint alleges Ulbricht used the it to launder around $1.2 billion in sales. Although the FBI acknowledges that Bitcoin is not illegal and has legitimate uses, the prominence of this new currency in such a high-profile case highlights how it can be used in illegal transactions. 
 Bitcoin will likely weather the storm, but it's unlikely Silk Road will be up and running after this impressive spread of criminal charges. The full complaint can be read here. 

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