Find all my other Deep Web articles here:
Silk Road story: Part 1, Part 2
In The Deep Web Series, I penned down some really interesting articles about what the deep web (aka. the hidden part of the internet) is and what you should know about Tor. I even told you the story of Silk Road - the story of a Penn State grad who became an illegal trader on the deep web and lost his throne as Dread Pirate Roberts. But nothing explains the dark depths of the internet better than an infographic, so here it is! (I recommend using Chrome on desktop to view the embedded infographic)
Find all my other Deep Web articles here:
Silk Road story: Part 1, Part 2
Read Part 1 first.
Curtis Green - the person handling transitions at Silk Road - was arrested in a raid over his house that afternoon, as soon as he accepted the drug parcel. The arrest was done by Carl Force himself - the Baltimore based DEA agent. After the arrest, Force managed to get access to Green’s account on the Silk Road. Green’s arrest was a big surprise for DPR, not because DPR had any knowledge, but simply because of the mishandling of transactions that led him to realise Green was no more a reliable ally.
In parallel, Force played another role - the role of Eladio Guzman (username: Nob). Under this identity, he soon became a trusted friend with DPR. Their relationship began with Nob sending a proposal to buy Silk Road for a billion dollars, which DPR declined. However, they soon became good online friends, with DPR sharing all his personal feelings about Silk Road with Nob and chatting over TorChat every night. When DPR realised Green was arrested, he asked Nob to kill Green (DPR of course had no idea that Nob was the person who had arrested Green). Force (aka. Nob) and Green enact a scene of Green’s death.
The FBI too had its own pack to bring down Silk Road. This group, lead by Chris Tarbell, was researching on every possible way to crack down the marketplace. Tor did challenge them, but after months of failing to hit their target, they stumbled across this post on Reddit that was simply a warning that the IP address of Silk Road was leaking. This begins the fall of Silk Road.
Tarbell had great amounts of knowledge about Tor and its anonymity. If DPR was to be caught, he had to find loopholes in Silk Road itself. The Reddit post gave him a first big lead - he had found the IP address of the world largest illicit marketplace.
Tarbell and team flew to Iceland, the location of Silk Road’s server. They took back a mirror copy of the entire Silk Road marketplace to New York, where they recreated the server through which they got access to the superuser accounts, all of DPR’s chat conversations and practically everything about DPR’s character - except, his name. Tarbell read through all of it, creating an image of the real word person who hid under the username Dread Pirate Roberts.
A big breakthrough soon came. A new agent from IRS, Gary Alford was working on another case pertaining to BitCoins where he discovered a person with the username “Altoid” on a popular forum talking about a new marketplace for everything. With a simple Google search, Gary found this Stack Overflow question asked by a user with the username “Altoid” (who later changed it to the alias “frosty"). On the stack social account, the email address of the person read “email@example.com”. Tarbell knew about frosty as a trusted username on the Silk Road, and if everything was correctly matched, they had found the name of the person behind Silk Road - Ross Ulbricht.
Ross was by now a very frustrated man with all the occurrences at Silk Road. He moved to various localities in the Bay area and finally chose to use his real name and stay in a rented room. He did live a positive social life - very much liked by the people who knew him. He was a “cool” guy to hang out with. Only Ross knew about the pains he was suffering.
Tarbell, knowing he could not track Ross’s online presence due to encryption, chose an odd path - physical surveillance. In the months to come, Ross was physically tracked: whenever Ross used his computer, DPR was online on the Silk Road forum, and when Ross shut the lid of his old Samsung, DPR went offline. This synchronisation was so accurately visible that it was soon obvious that Ross was Dread Pirate Roberts. The game was over.
Tarbell, along with Homeland Security agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan, pulled off a clean arrest on October 1, 2013. The arrest unfolded in a spectacular manner - Ross was sitting at the library when he was distracted purposely and his laptop was pulled away from him, without the lid of the laptop shutting. The laptop need to be on and alive because that was the only real proof that Ross was DPR. That day, Tarbell finally got to walk with the creator of Silk Road - a person he knew in his blood (thanks to all the conversations he had read on the recreated Silk Road server). Silk Road was immediately taken down.
Ross was convicted guilty and is now serving lifetime imprisonment. He still has supporters, for many liked his ideology of a free marketplace. Ross never intended to cause harm but the circumstances he stood in made him act differently. Neither his family nor his friends could believe what they saw. Ross’s caring character was brushed away by his ideologies and knowledge; knowledge that he had not perfected. The loopholes that Ross has led behind during the creation of Silk Road has allowed for his arrest.
Carl Force, in a new twist, has recently been convicted of stealing BitCoins using Green’s computer.
Well, that is it. That was the story of Silk Road.
You must understand the mistakes Ross made. Ross over-trusted Tor. Tor is just a method to be anonymous, but you must realise that Tor is not perfect. Your physical and visual characters can be unique, but they will naturally coincide.
The Silk Road story is a thriller, but it is also a story that ends right. It is your responsibility to use the internet carefully.
The primary source of the Silk Road articles has been the two part Wired report on the same topic. Joshua Berman, the author of the Wired articles, has done a great job with sharing the story in much more detail.
This story is for informational purposes only.
I, the author of Technonerds, have tried my best to report the incidents in this story with accuracy.
It is Complicated. It is a thriller.
As crazy as it is, the Silk Road story is perhaps one of the greatest deep/dark web stories you’ll ever come by. The unrealism and the secrecy is what really makes this story more of a thriller; not a news report.
Dread Pirate Roberts. Not really the everyday username of a 30 year old boy who earned a masters degree in material science from Penn State. Ross Ulbricht grew up in Austin, Texas. He was a well off school boy who later studied at University of Dallas before receiving a full aid into Penn State. He was an entrepreneur; he never considered working for someone. After he failed his first two startups, and shutting down a third company, he went on to revolutionise the use of the anonymous internet for the sale of drugs and other illicit items.
Silk Road was Ross’s creation. His idealistic idea that the world needed a marketplace where people could trade completely anonymously grew into the birth of the largest drug marketplace in the world. The origins of this idea can be traced back to Ross’s introduction the online currency BitCoin (that is cryptographic money that has no material counterpart; essentially “online money”). Ross developed the Silk Road website using his own computer skills - much of what he had learnt off the internet. He coded everything of the website - from the user database to the BitCoin payment gateway. Ross launched the website anonymously in February 2011, and went undercover about the marketplace thereafter.
Eventually, Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) was born - the username of the administrator of Silk Road. Silk Road absolutely boomed as a marketplace, with sales hitting 10 grand a month within an year. Hundreds of drug dealers from around the world used Silk Road as a means to sell their products to hundreds of thousands of Silk Road customers. Wikipedia states "In October 2014, there were 13,756 listings for drugs, grouped under the headings stimulants, psychedelics, prescription, precursors, other, opioids, ecstasy, dissociatives, cannabis and steroids/PEDs.” Silk Road was also a marketplace for legal items like apparel, and its sister site sold guns and ammunition.
The most interesting part was the fact that these drugs were delivered using the pre-established, legal mail system. Silk Road, or DPR, had written guidelines on packaging of the drugs in order to protect them from electronic scanners or sniffers. Moreover, the package was delivered to the actual address of the receiver, and if the receiver was ever questioned about why he is receiving the drugs, he/she could simply answer that they had never ordered it (because there is absolutely no trace of Silk Road left on the real person’s records).
When the US mail system began transporting too many drug boxes, they realised there was an issue - a hidden secret that was allowing for the illegal trade. Naturally, many organisations and people had taken up the mission to bring down Silk Road. One such was the Baltimore based DEA agent Carl Force.
Curtis Green (username: Chronicpain) was one of DPR’s assigned workers at Silk Road. He managed the transactions on Silk Road and closely administered with DPR. The 47 year old was greeted by a package of cocaine at 11 PM one noon. He hadn’t realised that in a few minutes, everything was about to change.
Read Part 2 here.
1. Wired: Silk Road 1
2. Wikipedia: Silk Road (marketplace)
3. Wikipedia: Ross Ulbricht
Onion. You’ll read a lot about it.
Deep Web: Everything on the internet that is not indexed by search engines.
Dark Web: A part of the Deep Web that, well, is dark. They are networks that require special software and authorisation in order to access, and the websites here are usually for illegal activities.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I talk about the Deep Web is Tor, that stands for “The Onion Router”. Tor is associated with the Dark Web mainly because of of user anonymity. Tor is actually a piece of software - a web browser - that allows for connecting to the onion network.
Which brings me to the principle technique: onion routing. Onion routing was essentially developed to encrypt US Intelligence communication back in the mid-1990s. It was created at the US Naval Research Laboratory and later improved by the Defence Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Today though, it is open source and can be used via the Tor browser.
So how on earth does Tor make someone anonymous on the internet? It is done via letting information pass though multiple nodes before arriving at its destination. Let us consider this example: You are sending data from point A to point E. The original message includes the data and multiple layers of encryption, each layer only revealing the identity of the next node. So when the message is sent from A, B receives it and removes one layer of encryption. B will only know that it has received the data from A and needs to be sent to C. Neither A nor C will be able to decrypt the same layer of encryption as B did. B passes the remaining information to C. Now, C, after decrypting the next layer, will only be able to tell that the message has come from B, and will not have any information about who A is or the fact that A is the origin of the message. This way, at every node, you can only trace back the information to the previous node, but no one can guess which of the nodes in the chain is the origin of the information. C sends it to D in a similar fashion, and D finally sends it to E. The layers of encryption, and the number of nodes are limited by the fact that they significantly affect transfer speeds. However, even a 3 node chain is enough to keep the origin completely anonymous (i.e. your IP address is never revealed). By the way, the nodes are chosen completely randomly, and there is no definite path the information will travel.
Did you realise why this system is called “onion” routing? Just like in an onion there are multiple layers you need to peel out to reach the core, the onion routing technique uses multiple layers of encryption to protect the users data and anonymity.
Considering Tor is completely open source, you can always download the browser onto your computer to access the deep web. Tor is available for all major platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux/GNU and Android.
Tor can legitimately be used by anyone. Although using it is completely legal, what some websites allow you to do on it is not. I’ll be writing about “What’s on the Deep Web?” in an upcoming article in the series. Websites with the .onion domain can only be accessed via the Tor browser.
Tor is used by a wide range of people. While smugglers and illegal traders use Tor to anonymously practice their activities, NSA (U.S. National Security Agency) uses Tor for protecting their anonymity. Of course, if you are involved in an illegal activity, the NSA would probably be tracking your moves (however anonymous you are on Tor, you can never completely hide, as the Silk Road story suggests. More about it in another blog post.).
NSA regards Tor to be “the King of high-secure, low-latency anonymity” (The Guardian post, linked below), and perhaps it is.
Understanding what Tor is and how Tor works is an important part of how the dark web works. Stay tuned to Technonerds to learn more about the Deep Web and the Dark Web, as many more articles are on their way!
The Guardian: Tor: ‘the king of high-secure, low-latency anonymity'
Wikipedia: Onion Routing
Roger Dingledine; Nick Mathewson; Paul Syverson: "Tor: The Second-Generation Onion Router" (PDF).
Tor Project Website: www.torproject.org
The internet, as we know, is huge. The problem is, it is so huge that we often underestimate its size. To explain what the web looks like, I’ve created this flow chart (it is very weird, and don’t worry if you don’t know everything. Because even I don’t).
Now, if you look at this chart, you’ll realise you are missing so much of the internet. As much as we see the internet is a safely built and highly accessible network, the truth is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. And the part of the iceberg that is hidden in the water is so deep, you wouldn’t even want to come close.
Now, I highly discourage using the deep web and I request you to take all the information I’ll be writing in this series to be “knowledge” and don’t put it to use. As anonymous, complicated and “cool” this web looks, it is highly dangerous for common people to venture into. In fact, I’d recommend you to consider the deep web a myth, because it might be. I personally have never visited the deeper trenches of the web myself.
In this information series, I will be sharing with you the knowledge I have of this deep web. I’ll be using sources ranging from YouTube videos to Wikipedia to technology blogs like Wired, all of whom host articles related to this topic. I’ll make sure I mention the sources of the blog posts I write.
Let's begin this adventure into an unknown universe, residing camouflaged under the “internet”.
Coming soon. Stay tuned.