It sounds almost surreal. A place where you can login and order marijuana to LSD, which will be delivered on your doorstep by the US Postal department, obviously clueless, after you pay for the drug through bitcoin.
All you need to do is become a Tor network member and open a bitcoin account, both completely legal. Though online transactions and delivery to your address is part of the whole process, the authorities are struggling to shut down the drug store or identify the users. Word of the mouth is that Silk Road is absolutely reliable in terms of timely delivery and accuracy.
Silk Road, opened in February this year became an internet buzz after gawker.com posted a Silk Road profile including an interview with a drug user. Silk Road, a digital black market that sits just below most internet users' purview, does resemble something from a cyberpunk novel. Through a combination of anonymity technology and a sophisticated user-feedback system, Silk Road makes buying and selling illegal drugs as easy as buying used electronics-and seemingly as safe. It's Amazon-if Amazon sold mind-altering chemicals, wrote Adrien Chen, the editor of gawker.com.
According to Chen's description there are about 340 varieties of drugs on the invisible shelves of Silk Road; Afghani hash, sour 13 weed, ecstasy, tar heroin, LSD etcetera to name a few. But even as an illegal drug store, Silk Road has its own ethical standards which is stated in terms of service: anything who's purpose is to harm or defraud, such as stolen credit cards, assassinations, and weapons of mass destruction, will not be sold through the network.
Before you wonder why the government can't close down the network, let's have a peep into how the technology works in favor of these online drug dealers.
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The URL of the website will not be accessible if you aren't member of Tor network. Earlier this month Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had announced the launch of Tor challenge inviting people to become members of Tor network. EFF, being an organization for online civil liberties, Tor isn't an illegal network per se. Since Tor is one of the most effective networks right now, to protect anonymity on the internet and circumvent internet censorship, this could work fine for just about anyone. Even for an illegal drug store.
What exactly is a Tor network? Tor is a volunteer system that consists of servers spread across the globe, and a downloadable software that enables access to the network. When you use the Tor software for your online communications and transactions, your IP address remains hidden. Tor relays, also referred to as routes or nodes, are the receivers, carriers and deliverers of data in the network. Data which travels from the source to the receiver traverse numerous relays scattered across the network without revealing its original source or target, to any individual relay at any point of time. In simpler words no relay will be a pointer to the greater scheme of things, even if it is compromised.
Two senators have called on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to shut down Silk Road by seizing its domain name. With the impenetrable Tor network, DEA is struggling in dark to figure out ways to shut down the drug store. It seems like there is a loophole authorities could potentially crack, which being the bitcoin payment Silk Road has been receiving in exchange of drugs.
Bitcoin, digital currency that avoids central authorities and issuers, is perfect for anonymous cash transactions, but given enough time, authorities could correlate network traffic with the publicly released (though anonymous) records of Bitcoin transactions, to identify actual users, Jeff Garzik, a Bitcoin developer, told gawker.com.
With a DEA crackdown in the offing, one will have to wait and see if the Amazon-eBay like experience for drug users will continue or not.