ANNOUNCEMENT: Since the Silk Road 2.0 bust by the feds a few other Darknet Markets have fallen. Silk Road 3 is up and running with a big selection of goods.
The latest update from the 2013 collapse of the Silk Road dark web market sees a 54-yr. old Canadian man by the name of Roger Thomas Clark detained in a Thai jail awaiting extradition to the United States. This most recent development follows the bringing-to-justice arc of one of the most interesting cyber-crime stories of our time.
Today we’ll take a look back, in touching on the Silk Road story, and the brains behind the world’s one-time largest drug market – and see where they are now, too.
Silk Road shot to fame in June of 2011 after a Gawker published an article covering a very basic account of how the online market operated. The site had, in fact, been operating for six months already, coming online in January of the same year.
The website offered a place online where you could buy and sell anything you pleased – including illegal products and services – all without compromising your identity. The site was accessed through the anonymity browser Tor, and goods exchanges were purchased via the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
The site was in operation up until October of 2013, when the website originator was arrested. A new Silk Road 2.0 sprung up in its place run by many of the same team as the original marketplace, but that site was subsequently shut down and its operator too arrested.
According to tracked articles from various news sites there have been at least 138 arrests made in association with Silk Road. This includes buyers, sellers, staff and operators. Various other darknet markets such as Utopia, Agora, Evolution and Sheep have seen a similar pattern of law enforcement targeting, although not to the same degree (yet) as Silk Road.
Dread Pirate Roberts
The notorious “kingpin” behind the Silk Road marketplace, Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, currently sits patiently in a jail cell plotting his next appeal.
Ulbricht was arrested in San Francisco in October 2013, following a huge undercover investigation that was aimed squarely are dismantling the online marketplace. His trial in January 2014 took almost a month to complete, with a jury finding him guilty on all charges, subsequently rewarding him with life in jail. The multiple charges included money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and computer hacking.
But as far as underworld figures go, he’s not exactly the person you’d think him to be. He’s a whip smart young guy with a passion for knowledge – studying physics and chemical engineering, ending up in research science. From there he then switched paths, focusing on libertarianism and free economic theory.
The Silk Road idea was dreamed up to escape the boundaries that exist in real-world transactions. He coded up the initial website based on his own libertarianism ideals and the rest, as they say, is history.
Variety Jones has been the latest man to fall from grace in the collapse of Silk Road. Roger Thomas Clark has been indicted by the US Department of Justice, accused of similar charges as Ulbricht, including narcotics trafficking and conspiracy to aid and abet hacking. He also faces up to life in jail for his alleged offences.
Clark has been living a low-key life on the island of Koh Chang up until this point.
Clark allegedly met Ulbricht through the site, when, as Variety Jones, he became a trusted marijuana seed seller. He was also very bright, and was quick to inform Ulbricht of a possible security flaw in the website, which sparked their initial friendship.
From here, Ulbricht regularly chatted to Clark, who in turn acted as a sort of mentor for the young man with the flourishing business. He ended up performing many functions across the business as the pair’s friendship deepened, and at several points in time there were payments given as compensation for services rendered for the business.
It appears that Clark had been supplying marijuana seeds since before the time of Silk Road’s launch and was involved in IT, although not much more information is yet available on his background.
A third key player in the Silk Road story goes by the name of Smedley. Smedley came on board the Silk Road project in January of 2012, when the popularity of the online marketplace was sky-rocketing. It appeared that Smedley was a brilliant coder, tackling technical problems all over the site.
Logs from the site servers show a dream environment envisaged by Dread Pirate Roberts, Variety Jones, and Smedley. This environment was structured to turn Silk Road into a bundled services provider for the deep web, much like Google is on the clear net. Smedley had already half-completed some of the elements necessary to turn all their dreams into realities.
We don’t yet know – and may never know – who Smedley, in fact, is.
We can be quite sure though, that law enforcement will continue to target those people responsible for starting and running darknet markets – and that the penalties are staggeringly steep.