The Rise and Fall of The Infamous Darknet Market

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Silkroad was an anonymous online black market that was created by Ross William Ulbricht. It was a well-known platform for the sale of illegal and contraband items. Silkroad was the eBay version of the darknet – a huge portion of the internet where users interact through anonymous browsers, encrypted email messages and crypto currencies like bitcoin.


The Beginning of Silkroad

Ross Ulbricht While Ross Ulbricht grew up in Austin, Texas, he never showed any signs that he was aspiring to be the boss of a drug cartel. He was an Eagle Scout and a very intelligent student whose SAT scores earned him a scholarship at University of Texas, Dallas. In graduate school he joined the libertarians and developed a strong aversion for government interference. In 2010, he began growing hallucinogenic fungi which he hoped to sell underground through Silkroad.

While the ‘shrooms where growing up, Ulbricht began to learn computer programming. After getting stuck midway, he called on his college friend Richard Bates who was working as a programmer at eBay. He hid the Silkroad project on Tor browser –the anonymous browsing system developed by the U.S. Navy. To evade both government and banking oversight or intrusion, Ulbricht set up Silkroad to accept bitcoin.

After months of intense development, Silkroad was launched in February 2011. It was hosted on the Tor network. Ulbricht was known by the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Within a short time, the site had many vendors and buyers. Silkroad had a ranking system that ranked vendors and helped buyers to screen out vendors with bad feedback. Ulbricht became rich quite fast because he charged about 10 to 12 percent on every transaction.

BitcoinsSilkroad made Ulbricht a multi-millionaire at 29. Through his illicit drug trade from February 2011 till July 2013, over 1.2 million transactions took place on the site. Total revenue obtained from these transactions was over 9.5 million bitcoins with a total commission of over 600,000 bitcoins. This provided Ulbricht with a commission of about 80 million dollars.

The Fall

After the Silk Road website was made public in 2011, Senator Charles Schumer requested for it to be shut down by Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). From that time, the activities on Silkroad, as well as the moves made by Ulbricht, were closely monitored. In May 2013, Silkroad was taken down temporarily by a DDoS attack. In October 2013, Ross Ulbricht was arrested at the Glen Park library in San Francisco.

He was indicted for drug trafficking conspiracy, money laundering, and computer hacking. The FBI sized 26,000 bitcoins from Silkroad accounts which were sold in June 2014. During the trial in January 2015, Ulbricht said he had transferred control of the site to other people shortly after founding it.


The biography and journals about Silkroad kept by Ulbricht on his laptop provided sufficient evidence to convict him of several criminal offenses. He kept an Excel spreadsheet of his earnings and documented all his business transactions. In February 2015, the jury found him guilty of running a criminal enterprise, for which he may be sentenced to 30 years to life.