When you Google search the Dark Web, what you will get from the search results are countless news articles about the Silk Road.
Before this modern version of the Silk Road, it represented a network of trade routes that spanned the Asian continent and connected the east to the west.
It was active in the Han dynasty from 206 BC until its disintegration in the 1450’s. Its name comes from the extremely profitable trade of silk by the Chinese. The route was credited with the expansion and development of the civilizations in China, the Indian subcontinent, Europe, Persia, the horn of Africa and Arabia. The route also helped in spreading art, technologies and even diseases.
The Modern Silk Road
The modern Silk Road was launched in February 2011 and was a Tor-protected drug marketplace. It operated from the dark web since its inception until 2013, when the FBI shut it down. According to them, this online black market was created and run by Ross William Ulbricht. He managed the platform by using an online pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts and operating within the dark web. Hence, the Silk Road was a part of the World Wide Web that is built on top of darknets. These are networks that require a specific access and authorization, which made the platform very hard to get into. Users could anonymously and securely browse the Silk Road without the need to worry about getting caught. When the site was shut down, it was estimated that it had earned over $1.2 billion in revenue.
The creator of the Silk Road is someone who does not look like a criminal or even has a criminal record. As already said, his name is Ross William Ulbricht and with a Master’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering, he was someone with a bright future. Before he created the Silk Road, Ulbricht had been the CEO of a bookstore called Good Wagon Books. During this time, he discovered stock trading and Bitcoin. As a libertarian, he believed in freedom of choice and wanted to create a website where users could buy anything anonymously. The bookstore was closed in 2011, and a few weeks later, the Silk Road went live.
How Was It so Successful?
Due to its Tor protection, the site expanded rapidly. The fact that Tor protected the Silk Road was a big problem for the authorities and made it nearly impossible for them to track down Ulbricht. A number of scientists as well as some members of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are responsible for the creation of Tor, which is a free software enabling anonymity. It is now a very valuable tool for political activists, whistleblowers, dissidents, and it eventually enabled criminals to communicate online without fear.
Gawker, a popular media website, published an article about the Silk Road that generated massive publicity and the attention of the FBI. This led to the creation of a special task force by the government called Marco Polo. It became evident that tracking down the creator was essential to shutting down the Silk Road. Eventually, the investigators were able to identify the overseas hosting company that was used to host the Silk Road. This, in turn, enabled them to retrieve all of the website’s private messages. In October 2013, the FBI permanently shut down the Silk Road. The FBI arrested Ross William Ulbricht in San Francisco, at the beginning of October 2013. The information leading to the arrest was provided by multiple factions of the United States government, including the FBI, IRS, DEA, DHS, U.S. Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms Tobacco and Explosives and even the U.S. Postal Inspection – all being part of the Marco Polo task force.
Ulbricht was convicted of seven charges by the jury, including drug trafficking, computer hacking, criminal enterprise, and money laundering. Then, on May 29th, 2015, he was handed 5 sentences, 2 of which included life imprisonment. Even with that sentence, many copycat websites were created but were all quickly shut down. The harsh sentence was meant to serve as a warning to others.