Dark Web Drug Sales Have Tripled Despite Silk Road Shutdown

By David Konow 08/16/16

Around 50 new illegal online marketplaces have popped up since the government shut down Silk Road in 2013.  

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Dark Web Drug Sales Have Tripled Despite Silk Road Shutdown

The “dark web” is a hidden area of the Internet where one could purchase practically anything that is illegal—whether it’s weapons, drugs, or even human trafficking. Before it was shut down in 2013 by the FBI, Silk Road was the primary online marketplace where you could purchase everything from cocaine to automatic weapons, reportedly making $15 million a year in illicit transactions. (Newsweek called it the Amazon of the dark web.) In 2015, Silk Road’s founder, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life in prison.

Silk Road was able to get away with selling illegal goods because the dark web is an area of the Internet that can’t be easily tracked. Personal locations are encrypted by a software named Tor, allowing individuals to anonymously peruse dark web marketplaces (or "cryptomarkets") like Silk Road. In creating Tor, the Naval Research Lab initially came up with a way to surf the net with maximum security, but it created a backdoor for criminal activity where you can purchase illicit contraband with the digital currency, Bitcoin.

But shutting down Silk Road apparently hasn’t put a dent in illegal online drug deals, according to Newsweek, which reported last week that drug sales on the dark web have tripled since 2013.

As one researcher said, “The closure of Silk Road has not curbed the growth of these cryptomarkets, as more markets continue to be created and more illicit drugs are being bought online. This is despite several high-profile law enforcement interventions and exit scams by market administrators.”

According to Quartz, about 50 new cryptomarket websites have popped up where you can buy drugs and other illegal goods. Right before Silk Road came to an end, drug purchases were averaging $7 million a month on the dark web. At the start of this year, sales in eight other cryptomarkets made over $14 million.

The Economist reports that drug cartels are apparently not dealing through the dark web, perhaps because “they have established supply chains that they are not keen to disrupt,” said cryptomarket expert James Martin at Macquarie University in Australia. According to Martin, the rise of the dark web could be “the equivalent of the online retail boom of the 1990s...Old-style drug lords might want to think about investing in cryptomarkets, or risk being disrupted out of existence.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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