The dark web, known for its use of the black market, has altered and transformed into a very alarming monster since the first site originally launched in 2011. Many people know the black market as an online marketplace to purchase illegal goods, but generally drugs. The truth behind this is much deeper and terrifying than most realize.
The dark web is a broad term for a majority of the internet you can only reach by using specific software which allows the user to remain anonymous by hiding their IP address. An IP address can be thought of as a social security number for your online presence, so it’s important for the users to hide this information from potential law enforcement.
The users are able to hide their IP addresses by using Tor, also known as the onion router. This routes your internet traffic through multiple separate IP addresses which encrypts it. Encryption is important for anonymity because it essentially scrambles the IP address.
The Tor onion router was initially created by Naval Intelligence to be used by the US Military and State Department to defend operations and prevent spies. Tor uses an algorithm that ultimately layers the IP addresses to make it very complicated and challenging to trace. Even when laid out in front of an expert, it can be virtually impossible to find potentially illegal activities.
Participants on the black market use a form of currency unlike any other in the world. Bitcoins were the first and only form of currency that was unregulated by any government. These can be entirely untraceable due to the fact to purchase them there is no need to provide any personal information.
In January 2011, Silk Road was created by a graduate student, Ross Ulbricht, at Penn State. He had been trying for years to create a successful business of his own, from day trading to a failing videogame company. He began by selling 10 pounds of mushrooms he had acquired and eventually found himself personally handling all transactions on the website. He wrote to himself “In 2011, I am creating a year of prosperity and power beyond what I have ever experienced before. Silk Road is going to become a phenomenon and at least one person will tell me about it, unknowing that I was its creator.”
Ross wanted to create a website that gave individuals their freedoms back while maintaining morals. He restricted products to victimless crimes. He posted three rules that included no child pornography, assassinations, or weapons.
“In 2011, I am creating a year of prosperity and power beyond what I have ever experienced before. Silk Road is going to become a phenomenon and at least one person will tell me about it, unknowing that I was its creator.”
Authorities were aware of the site only a few months after it launched, however, it took them over two years to determine who the creator of this $1 Billion darknet site was. Ulbricht had been using a public library to run the market and once the FBI discovered the few missing pieces of information it was easy to find him. In his journal he also mentioned “This is more than a business to me, it’s a revolution and is becoming my life’s work.” His business and dream would be torn away from him in a matter of days.
“This is more than a business to me, it’s a revolution and is becoming my life’s work.”
Ulbricht was caught in the act at the library in San Francisco and was arrested immediately. He was logged on at the time, so agents had his administrator login information, log of daily activities, and his private journal which provided more than enough evidence against him. In his home they found several flash drives that contained even more detailed information of his illegal activities. Within hours, the market was shut down.
Once Silk Road was seized, it didn’t take long for other darknet marketplaces to be created. However, without Ulbricht’s rules and morals the new and upcoming sites began to offer horrifying goods and services.
While browsing different marketplaces on the dark web, you can find almost anything imaginable. Drugs are by far the most sought-after product. By searching deeper, you can discover anything from human trafficking to assassins. Some other items include human organs, weapons, illegal and exotic pets, Uranium, and Ricin.
Human trafficking is a very real and terrifying issue all over the world. The black market is a very popular outlet for buying and selling human slaves. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 75% of human trafficking is sexual exploitation. Human trafficking has been around for centuries, but the creation of the black market has made it much harder for law enforcement to stop.
Assassins are just one of the many services offered on the black market. Many sites claim to be skilled hitmen that can assure the task is completed swiftly, quietly, and anonymously. They also guarantee the clients identity will be protected. With this service, many of the advertisements are fake, being posted by law enforcement or simply being scams. Some gangs and countless mafias additionally offer this service along with other services if you want to “send a message” without actually taking someone’s life.
Since organs are in such high demand, this has driven individuals waiting in hospitals to turn to the dark web. According to the World Health Organization, around 66,000 kidney transplants, 21,000 liver transplants and 6,000 heart transplants were performed internationally in 2005. India, Pakistan, and China are the largest suppliers of black-market organs.
Weapons and bombs are yet another extremely popular product available for purchase. This option makes it easy to obtain weapons without them being registered, therefore they will be untraceable. Purchasing weapons on the dark web can be extremely expensive. Guns typically exceed $1,000 online, commonly higher than retail value.
The sale of rare and exotic animals on the black market is a multibillion-dollar market. According to CNBC, animals are butchered for their valuable and sought-after qualities. Depending on the animal, some are captured and sold alive, while others are destroyed before they are sold. Some buyers are looking for a new exotic pet, although some believe that certain parts hold special medical properties.
Uranium may not seem as chilling as the other products available but can be one of the deadliest. Uranium is used to create nuclear weapons, and although an individual is not likely to have the equipment or knowledge to produce anything very hazardous, some crime organizations have the ability to make this available Uranium very dangerous.
Ricin is one of the most lethal and effective poisons known to man. It is produced naturally but is so potent a few granules would be enough to kill an adult. Several militaries around the world (including the US Military) have tested this poison for bio-chemical warfare. Researchers that experiment with this must register with the government to receive any. Since it is offered on the black market, it is open for anyone to buy anonymously.
Black markets have evolved magnificently since the initial release of Silk Road in 2011. We have seen the shift from maintaining morals with Ross Ulbricht to a dangerous and uncontrollable monster that cannot be stopped.