The biggest story of the week biggest tech story of the week (obviously the shutdown is the biggest general interest story of the week) is that the Feds (claim to have) busted Silk Road, the anonymous, Bitcoin driven marketplace for illegal drugs and other wares. Here are some of the most interesting follow-up stories I read this week:
The FBI has arrested the San Francisco man they say ran Silk Road, the notorious underground digital bazaar that allowed traffickers to anonymously peddle heroin, cocaine and nearly anything else illegal.
Ross William Ulbricht, 29, who allegedly operated the site as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. […]
Hundreds of illicit drugs were available for anyone to purchase on Silk road, from Afghani hash to LSD and ecstasy, though the terms of service did provide some limitations – they prohibited the sale of weapons of mass destruction, the solicitation of murder, or the sale of stolen bank card data or anything else whose purpose was to harm or defraud.
Ulbricht allegedly violated his own rule, however, when earlier this year he allegedly solicited a murder-for-hire of another Silk Road member who was threatening to release the identities of thousands of users of the site, according to the criminal complaint unsealed this morning. Ulbricht hasn’t been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, however.
Installing the software takes barely a couple of minutes and requires minimal computer skills. You find the Freenet website, read a few terse instructions, and answer a few questions (“How much security do you need?” … “NORMAL: I live in a relatively free country” or “MAXIMUM: I intend to access information that could get me arrested, imprisoned, or worse”). Then you enter a previously hidden online world. In utilitarian type and bald capsule descriptions, an official Freenet index lists the hundreds of “freesites” available: “Iran News”, “Horny Kate”, “The Terrorist’s Handbook: A practical guide to explosives and other things of interests to terrorists”, “How To Spot A Pedophile [sic]”, “Freenet Warez Portal: The source for pirate copies of books, games, movies, music, software, TV series and more”, “Arson Around With Auntie: A how-to guide on arson attacks for animal rights activists”. There is material written in Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Italian. There is English-language material from America and Thailand, from Argentina and Japan. There are disconcerting blogs (“Welcome to my first Freenet site. I’m not here because of kiddie porn … [but] I might post some images of naked women”) and legally dubious political revelations. There is all the teeming life of the everyday internet, but rendered a little stranger and more intense. One of the Freenet bloggers sums up the difference: “If you’re reading this now, then you’re on the darkweb.”
Aaron Swartz, one of the founders of Reddit, and Virgil Griffith, creator of WikiScanner have teamed up to provide users with a new service that gives them access to anonymized content posted through the Tor network.
Although users have always been able to publish content anonymously on Tor, the content has been available only to people who download the Tor software. Swartz wanted to free-up the content to make it available to anyone. The result is tor2web, which is essentially a kind of Google for the hidden “underweb.”
Tor is a privacy tool designed to prevent tracking of where a web user surfs on the internet and with whom a user communicates. It’s endorsed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil liberties groups as a method for whistleblowers and human-rights workers to communicate with journalists, among other uses.