Silk Road Sales Reach $1 Million a Month
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The eBay of the drug world is continuing to grow at a staggering rate. Illegal website Silk Road allows users to score their drugs of choice with the click of a button and then receive it by snail mail—disguised as a normal packaged parcel. Initially launched in February 2011, research tracking the growth of the site shows that Silk Road's sales have doubled during a six-month period in 2012 and the site now distributes $1.7 million in drugs each month. Silk Road now has an estimated $22 million in annual sales and its operators generate up to $6,000 in commission for themselves each day. Much like eBay, the site has buyers and sellers, feedback ratings and dispute and resolution services when exchanges go badly. The drugs bought off the site are purchased through "Bitcoins," an untraceable digital currency. To protect buyers' and sellers' personal information, the website is accessed through a program called Tor, which allows all members to remain anonymous online and relies on an "onion" system to keep all IP addresses hidden from authorities. "It's not a matter of police locking a few guys up to end this. It is very distributed. We are looking at more than 600 sellers each month," says Dr. Nicolas Cristin, who conducted the research. Disrupting the use of Tor would also prove difficult because much of its funding comes directly from the US state department's internet freedom budget; additionally, the program is used worldwide by activists in countries like China or Iran, who would otherwise be censored or persecuted by their governments. However, the site isn't entirely foolproof; last July, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service officers in Melbourne and Sydney busted Paul Leslie Howard for using the Silk Road to mail 47 grams of MDMA and 14.5 grams of cocaine to his home. He had reportedly used Silk Road to buy and import MDMA, amphetamines, marijuana and cocaine on 11 different occasions.