Contrary to their expectations, the vacuum created by the closure of Silk Road has been filled up more than 50 darknet markets over the last couple of years.
Silk Road which came back into the fray once gain as Silk Road 2.0 was closed down in 2014 and now Silk Road 3.0 has come into existence.
The founder of the original Silk Road, Ross William Ulbricht, is behind bars, but (Silk Road 3.0)*, supposedly the most resilient darknet markets, has been operational since May 2016.
These darknet markets sell a range of illegal products such as drugs, weapons, identities, passwords, credit card data, and fake currency.
However, the fact is that whatever happened to Silk Road may happen to other darknet markets as well.
Criminals may think that they are a step ahead of law enforcement agencies at some point in time, but sooner or later the police would come and knock on their doors.
The darknet markets that are in operation now claim to have more users and bigger listings than the Silk Road, which grossed revenues of $1.2 billion during the period 2011 to 2013 through the sale of drugs to as many as one million customers.
In addition to selling contrabands, these sites do not only charge a registration fee, but also take a cut on each sale executed by vendors.
For example, AlphaBay levies a registration fee of $300 and 0.5 percent of the value of each order.
The darknet markets cannot be accessed using the ordinary search engines.
Special browsers that are capable of hiding the user’s identity are required.
These browsers hide the user’s identity while surfing the Internet by masking the user’s IP address.
Further, these marketplaces make use of complicated addresses for the purpose of disguising identity.
All the data, which includes messages sent and received and orders executed and transactions effected, are encrypted.
Further, multi-signature validation is employed for completing transactions.
This means that the vendor would receive payment only when the buyer agrees.
Additionally, the use of digital currency Bitcoin for payments has helped them to maintain anonymity.
In spite of all the measures implemented by the operators of darknet markets, they cannot boast of being out of reach of the law.
The arrest and sentencing of Ulbricht provide ample evidence to this effect.
According to Sastry Tumuluri, a cyber security expert, operators of the darknet markets may think that they are anonymous, but they are not safe out there.
Darknet – History in Brief
The origin of the darknet can be traced back to the time prior to the Internet boom in the 1990s.
By the end of the 90s, technological advances enabled the storage of files on centralized servers.
As all the files were hosted at one place, failure of a single point led to the crumbling of the entire service.
As a result, this stage of the darknet could not survive for long.
This, in turn, led to the development of peer to peer networks. In this system, the data was stored in the machines of individuals. This meant that individuals shared content instead of pulling them out of a single server.
Though, attempts were made in the years that followed the birth of the Internet in 1969 to create virtual spaces for storing illegal data, underground peer-to-peer sites that facilitated piracy came into existence only by the end of the 1990s.
A browser by name Tor (The Onion Router) which could make Internet surfing anonymous was introduced in 2002, paving the way for the rise of the dark web.
Tor helped in concealing the location as well as IP address of a user who downloaded the software.
However, extensive distribution of Tor was effected only in 2004 with Hidden Wiki’s launch. The creation of the Tor was sponsored by the US Naval Research Laboratory.
Tor was originally designed for protecting the identity of American dissidents and operatives in countries like China.
Silk Road was the first among darknet markets that used both Tor and Bitcoin escrow when it started its operations in 2011.
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