Digital Underground: The black market on the internet, where you can buy just about anything

The black market on the internet, where you can buy just about anything

Feature by Alex Cole | 01 Jun 2011
  • Digital Underground

Forget all the crap about new gadgets and social togetherness being the best thing about technology – we all know it’s being able to shop without having to talk to anyone (well, it’s really free porn, but whatever). Between eBay, Amazon, and every high street shop, there ain’t much you can’t get delivered to your door. Well, except illegal stuff. I mean, everything’s tracked and recorded online, right? It’s not like you can just browse a site for a few grams of hash and get it delivered anonymously to your door, right?

Yeah, actually, you can.

A new breed of site is promising to deliver just that. Silk Road, a newish and only recently public launch, is a one-stop shop for all your recreational narcotic needs. Individual sellers all over the world can offer just about any drug in the alphabet, from heroin to weed to ecstasy. Fill your shopping cart with what you like, and it gets sent to your door in an anonymous brown package. Neat as you please.

What about credit cards, you say? Can’t they trace that, like in The Wire. Gotcha covered. Silk Road runs on Bitcoins, a new breed of digital currency that floats wildly against regular currencies, and has the advantage of being completely anonymous. All purchases are public, but with no names attached, so your meth is bought with the safety of never having it on your bill.

Not-that-I’m-interested-but-if-I-just-wanted-to-browse-around-for-no-reason-so-what’s-the-address, I hear you ask? Well, it’s not that simple. Sure, I could just give you a random string like http://ianxz6zefk72ulzz.onion/index.php, but that won’t get you far. Connections are run through an anonymizer protocol called TOR, which needs to be specially configured on your machine to completely mask where you’re connecting from, who you are, and keep anyone from snooping on your connection. You’ll need a nerd of moderate ability to set it up, but if you do, you get a surprisingly secure connection to the street dealer’s worst nightmare.

Bitcoins aren’t exactly foolproof, and their value changes by the second, so you’re never quite sure how much you’re paying for what you get. And the site itself is only a few months old and has already pissed off a whole bunch of authority figures in suits, so who knows how long it’ll all last.

Fact is, though, for now this site does exactly what it says on the tin – very anonymous, secure and reliable drugs, delivered to your door. And they said this internet thing wouldn’t catch on.