How secure is Silk Road, the eBay of drugs?

Jun 3, 2011
Venetia Rainey

Now you can buy illegal drugs anonymously - but users’ identities may not be safe

A website through which you can order any drug in the world is being called the eBay of illegal substances, but critics are questioning how much it can actually be trusted.

Silk Road is an online marketplace where the only things you can sell or buy are drugs. To protect identities, it can only be viewed through a anonymising network called Tor, and only accepts payments in Bitcoins - a supposedly untraceable digital currency.

More than 300 items are for sale, including Afghani hash, 'sour 13' weed, tar heroin and 'Avatar' LSD. The items are more expensive than they would be on the street ($150 for 100 micrograms of acid), but users seem to be willing to pay more for the convenience.

As Adrien Chen writes in Gawker: "Making small talk with your pot dealer sucks. Buying cocaine can get you shot. What if you could buy and sell drugs online like books or light bulbs? Now you can."

"Our community is amazing," Silk Road's anonymous administrator told Gawker. "They are generally bright, honest and fair people, very understanding, and willing to cooperate with each other."

But the site may not be as secure as it thinks it is. Although Tor masks users' tracks on the website, and the website advises its dealers to disguise shipments, all Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public log, already well-known to both FBI and CIA.

"Attempting major illicit transactions with Bitcoin, given existing statistical analysis techniques deployed in the field by law enforcement, is pretty damned dumb," commented Jeff Garzik, a member of Bitcoin's development team. "The CIA likely already classifies Bitcoin as open-source intelligence."

Additionally, anyone ordering goods needs to provide their address. "Sooner or later," writes Curtis Cartier in the Seattle Weekly blog. "Folks who buy drugs on the site will be seeing something other than a friendly UPS man at their door."

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