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Darknet drug markets kept alive by great customer service.
August 24, 2014 10:37 AM   Subscribe

In 1972, long before eBay or Amazon, students from Stanford University in California and MIT in Massachusetts conducted the first ever ecommerce transaction. Using the "Arpa-net" account at their artificial intelligence lab, the Stanford students sold their counterparts a small amount of marijuana. Ever since, the net has turned over a steady but small trade in illicit narcotics. But last year approximately 20 per cent of UK drug users scored online. The majority of them went to one place: the dark net markets.

The most infamous of these dark net markets was called the Silk Road. In October 2013, following a lengthy investigation, the Silk Road was closed down (the trial of 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, who the FBI allege ran the site, is ongoing -- Ulbricht denies all charges). But as soon as it was knocked offline, copycat sites were launched by anonymous operators to fill the gap. In November 2013 there were a small handful of these marketplaces: there are now around 30. Pandora, Outlaw Market, 1776 Market Place -- and most of them are doing a decent trade. Between January and April 2014, "Silk Road 2.0" -- set up within a month of the original being busted -- processed well over 100,000 sales. But the most shocking thing about these sites is not how many there are, but how they are changing the drugs industry. They work exceptionally well.
posted by bookman117 (36 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
The only shitty thing is when one forgets their username or password to their site of choice, which happens to have bitcoin in it.

One of the articles touched on the Darknet search engine called Grams, which is quite well done, but here's more on it.
posted by gman at 10:54 AM on August 24


Yea, the whole Silk Road thing pretty much let the genie out of the bottle. Not only did it force it to be recognized by the general public but also the amount that DreadPiratesRoberts was supposedly taking in a month was astronomical. Then you toss in the fact that while, yes, it's slightly more expensive, it's generally better quality, a ton more convienant, and users leave feedback so scam users are usually discovered pretty quick.

Just another instance of the war on drugs failing - take down one site, 3 more pop up.
posted by lpcxa0 at 11:07 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


The only shitty thing is when one forgets their username or password to their site of choice, which happens to have bitcoin in it. 

Only users lose drugs.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:07 AM on August 24 [52 favorites]


With tripping you might not remember every detail later, so hiding your usb key with the darknet accounts and bitcoins in a fit of paranoia and then not being able to find it again later when sober, would be hilarious.
posted by yoHighness at 11:33 AM on August 24


With tripping you might not remember every detail later, so hiding your usb key with the darknet accounts and bitcoins in a fit of paranoia and then not being able to find it again later when sober, would be hilarious.

Shush you or it'll be the plot to Hot Tub Time Machine 3.
posted by Talez at 11:45 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


*sigh*

Legalize it, regulate it, tax it.
posted by SansPoint at 11:47 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


Legalize it, regulate it, tax it.
And look to Washington State for guidance on how not to do that.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:50 AM on August 24 [10 favorites]


I know I shouldn't be, but I am still surprised at how so many have enough faith in these systems to risk not only state, but federal charges they could add if the authorities chose to, since in addition to possession and/or sale, they could throw in a bunch of RICO charges (trafficking, money laundering, illegal interstate commerce) if they want to make an example of you.

Maybe in 10-15 years, they may work a lot of the bugs and vulnerabilities out of the system, but right now those involved are not unlike beta testers for software, only in this case the bug reports are in the form of evidence in a criminal trial.

Call me old fashioned, but if I were in need of such products and services, I'd stick with the 'guy who knows a guy' process. At least then you have a better ability to trust your instincts and get chance to judge the vibe of someone and the situation, and the vulnerability is only for the short duration of the transaction, with a far less chance of any evidence of the process being logged and stored for authorities to follow up on months or years later. In a brief face to face situation, you at least get the chance to bail if things don't feel right. Having the internet as a middle man removes an enormous amount of info that could have ended up saving either your wallet or your future as a free person. Lying in text online is a hell of a lot easier than lying in person - all you need is good patter to trick you, rather than all the physicality that goes into it in person that may tip you off to something not right with the situation.

The whole internet black market thing is fascinating to think about and watch it evolve, but I could never see myself trusting systems like Tor enough to ever actually use it.
posted by chambers at 11:58 AM on August 24 [6 favorites]


GrAmazon.com
eBud.com

Man, I need to register those.
posted by chavenet at 12:30 PM on August 24 [5 favorites]


I'd stick with the 'guy who knows a guy' process. At least then you have a better ability to trust your instincts

The problem with that is that you have to know a guy and have those instincts. For a lot of people the darknet is a great technological solution to this hard to solve social problem. After all, if you're socially inept you could just as well find the guy your guy knows is a cop because your guy got busted and turned.
posted by localroger at 1:16 PM on August 24 [7 favorites]


chambers: Yes, I can't see why Tor isn't vulnerable to sybil attacks by anyone with the money to buy servers/bandwidth at widely dispersed IP addresses, and the patience to add them to the network slowly. In this attack, it appears that the Tor Project only noticed a large block of hostile relays because they were tightly clustered in IP address space, and they all came online around the same time. (And despite noticing them, they let them participate in the network for months anyway.) So it's better than nothing, but if I was doing something a wealthy, powerful government tends to vigorously punish, I would want it shielded by something more than a Tor hidden service.
posted by fivebells at 1:35 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, as far as I am aware the collapse of Silk Road didn't result in any buyers getting busted. The authorities directed their attention toward the sellers, who thanks to the power of global communications looked like very big fish indeed compared to the usual local pushers who get nabbed. And while buyers can be expected to take shortcuts with the security, anyone running an online store who isn't taking solid precautions is a true idiot.
posted by localroger at 1:50 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


localroger, are there any reports, ever, of buyers getting busted after buying from one of these markets?
posted by grubby at 2:00 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


OK, so I'm a pre-web internet geek. In the late 80's I was pondering graduate school and began to explore what resources were available online. With my trusty 28.8 modem and way too much time on my hands I found so much "stuff". Sex drugs and rock and roll online!

Even back then the idea of buying something illegal online seemed pretty risky. Given the revelations of the past few years I'm thinking that the risk now is even higher. Mind you I'm a complete libertarian on the issue of personal drug use but that isn't a popular position amongst those that making laws today.

After graduate school in '94 I went to work at a tech startup in Northern Virginia. One of my colleagues, who was sick to fucking death of all the BS about "Best of Breed" technologies, "leveraging our core competencies", "exploring synergistic relationships", etc. came up with a brilliant idea. He called it "ganjahut.com: marrying the power of the internet with ubiquity of the comb." Damn it, we should have done it!
posted by skepticbill at 2:16 PM on August 24


grubby, as I said, not that I've seen. I'm not super plugged into those communities but I've seen several others who are comment that all the prosecution seems to be aimed at the market runners and sellers. I'm not sure how far I'd trust that to stay true, but if you think about it the bust of a market like Silk Road suddenly gives the LEO's handles on a lot of people, some big fish and some small. Given that more work is necessary to go after each of them, who do you think gets the attention?
posted by localroger at 2:19 PM on August 24


skepticbill, I suspect the end of ganjahut.com would have come not from the distribution side but from the supply side if it had gotten popular enough to need major sources.
posted by localroger at 2:25 PM on August 24


I know someone who buys his drugs this way and he says that even if the package is intercepted he can just deny knowledge of it -- you can't get someone put in prison just by mailing them drugs or people would do that to get revenge on someone they had a grudge against.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:47 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


This person did an AMA on Reddit after supposedly being nicked for buying large quantities of ecstasy from Silk Road in the UK.

TW for an anti-trans slur in one of the submitter's answers to an off-topic question, though.
posted by Corinth at 2:49 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


There is a ton of information on the forums of those darknet markets as well as analyses of busts, scam alerts, seller reviews, basically like ebay. A fake name and address may not be such a problem in the UK where city houses regularly seem to have these little piles of old mail sitting in the stairwell; previous recipients and such, a jumble of names. Then after getting Tor on a £100 burner laptop as long as you only do that for personal amounts that looks more secure to me than going on a quest in your social network and meeting dodgy people. The only thing left to deal with would be the contrast of the adrenaline rush from buying drugs VS the calmness of the random little café where you're sipping tea and using the wifi. Which would be weird. I think.
posted by yoHighness at 2:56 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Yet again, I find myself wondering how the buyers reconcile the, assumed if not necessarily flawless, privacy of the tor+bitcoin+encryption side of things with the need to recieve a package that, most likely, contains illicit things.

Fedex? UPS? USPS?!?

Seriously, that's the sticking point for me and it seems like these buyers are taking a tremendous risk with having these various and sundry illegal things, despite the security of the purchase procedure, delivered. Digital goods (seriously, hitmen lists? that's a thing?) could obviously be delivered with no more trouble than a digital pattern for a knit hot water bottle cover off ebay.

On preview:

and he says that even if the package is intercepted he can just deny knowledge of it -- you can't get someone put in prison just by mailing them drugs or people would do that to get revenge on someone they had a grudge against.

Sure, that sounds plausible enough. But again, who has *ANY* of their packages inspected in depth and for illegal goods these days? So for the package to be caught I'm assuming some sort of leak, informant, security breach along the path of purchasing -> packaging -> shipment. In which case you can deny all day long but if the leak points to a 'Paid-Anon-User3498349230' and the package is tracked en route or, worse, on your doorstep I find it hard to believe that saying "I know nothing of said package" would get you far in front of the police.

I dunno, maybe these sites have tutorlals I don't know about, maybe I'm missing something or being naive and yes I understand there's risks from buying said goods from a friend of a friend but still, and yet again, I am confuse.

On double preview:

A fake name and address may not be such a problem in the UK where city houses regularly seem to have these little piles of old mail sitting in the stairwell; previous recipients and such, a jumble of names.

Is that how people are doing it? Dead drops at closed/wrong addresses or something? LSD deliveries to grandma? That seems like a good way to lose a box of perfectly good blow. Hell, I worry my yogurt maker (delivery scheduled for tomorrow, give me recipes if you have one!) will disappear off *my own* doorstep if I'm not quick enough to answer the door, away from home, or what have you...
posted by RolandOfEld at 3:01 PM on August 24


the calmness of the random little café where you're sipping tea and using the wifi.

Just use a coffee shop that has gold fringe on their flag, and you're safe.
posted by thelonius at 3:15 PM on August 24 [12 favorites]


Roland I haven't ever ordered illegal drugs (no, really) but I have ordered legal but prescription-only diabetes drugs from overseas pharmacies (long story, and really). Shipments that were small enough arrived in small flats which could be letter-delivered and padded quite cleverly to conceal their true nature.

In the US it is quite solid law that you can't be busted just for receiving a package in the mail. They have to establish that you either deliberately ordered it or that you knew what it was and used it instead of turning it in. The difficulty of such a prosecution for a misdemeanor offense makes it very unlikely to occur for minor personal usage amounts in most US venues.
posted by localroger at 3:15 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Is that how people are doing it? Dead drops at closed/wrong addresses or something?

Not the people I know. They're just having it delivered to their real house in their real name.

They're only ordering personal use type quantities though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:25 PM on August 24


I just googled and it would appear one can rent a PO box in the UK with a student card. BRB off to ebay for a dymo printer and some blank cards. There's also the old "I tracked a lost parcel and it got misdelivered to your address". Limits spur creativity.
posted by yoHighness at 3:43 PM on August 24


In the US it is quite solid law that you can't be busted just for receiving a package in the mail. They have to establish that you either deliberately ordered it or that you knew what it was and used it instead of turning it in.

You can't be successfully prosecuted, but the cops can kick down your door, shoot your dogs (including a puppy that's running away) and point guns at your family. Oh, and cops aren't sorry - Sheriff Jackson stated that "we'd do it again. Tonight."
posted by 445supermag at 3:49 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


The place I'm living in now is a big old house that's been divided into separate apartments. If I were to theoretically order something like this, I would just go out and look through our mail, which on a daily basis has stuff addressed to any number of ex-tenants, and pick one of those names.

The hardest part would probably be getting to it before the old retired guy who lives in the front ground floor suite and is usually out there going through the mail within half hour of delivery, throwing stuff out or marking it return to sender. I'd probably need to figure out precisely what time the postal worker arrives and be lurking every day.

And use one of my old but still functional laptops packed away in storage, ordering from a public wifi location.

And order in small enough amounts that it wouldn't be anything to cry over if it did get lost or intercepted.

All in theory, of course.
posted by mannequito at 3:50 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


but the cops can kick down your door etc.

Well that's certainly true. But if you get to the point where they know enough to do that, you've probably been doing it wrong. (Where, sadly, in many cases "wrong" means "while black.")
posted by localroger at 3:52 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


That law about receiving mail seems odd. Sure, you could claim that the items aren't yours once or twice but if the police have a list of someone receiving 20 deliveries, how can that not be used against you?
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 5:14 PM on August 24


localroger, I figured the "can't be bothered" angle, but it can't be good to be recorded in databases , for future-proofing's sake.
posted by grubby at 6:24 PM on August 24


I was once sent a birthday card from my friends, who were holidaying in Amsterdam at the time. Taped inside the front flap under a sheet of paper was a baggie of incredibly noxious weed (completely unasked for and unbeknownst to me).

The envelope was slitted open and inside a big clear plastic bag stamped with Royal Mail - Damaged - Royal Mail - Damaged, containing a form letter stating something like THIS LETTER HAS BEEN DAMAGED WHILE BEING INTERCEPTED AND INVESTIGATED BY UK CUSTOMS IN CONJUNCTION WITH ROYAL MAIL. But apart from the envelope the utterly obvious lump of stinky baggie under its sheet was untouched.

I guess the takeaway is either that postal inspectors don't give that much of a shit about weed or they're incredibly kindhearted about birthdays. It wasn't my birthday, of course, but how would they know. I shat myself at every knock on the door for weeks.
posted by forgetful snow at 8:30 PM on August 24 [3 favorites]


That law about receiving mail seems odd. Sure, you could claim that the items aren't yours once or twice but if the police have a list of someone receiving 20 deliveries, how can that not be used against you?

That would fall into the "evidence of deliberate ordering" or "not turning it in" part.
posted by Small Dollar at 8:35 PM on August 24


I mentioned the old campus mailboxes in the email thread - I remember a guy whose brother sent him hash from Amsterdam got busted there. They staked it out, he came to get his mail, boom.
posted by thelonius at 9:02 PM on August 24


(It was USPS inspectors, not campus cops)
posted by thelonius at 9:04 PM on August 24


I was once sent a birthday card from my friends, who were holidaying in Amsterdam at the time. Taped inside the front flap under a sheet of paper was a baggie of incredibly noxious weed (completely unasked for and unbeknownst to me).

The envelope was slitted open and inside a big clear plastic bag stamped with Royal Mail - Damaged - Royal Mail - Damaged, containing a form letter stating something like THIS LETTER HAS BEEN DAMAGED WHILE BEING INTERCEPTED AND INVESTIGATED BY UK CUSTOMS IN CONJUNCTION WITH ROYAL MAIL. But apart from the envelope the utterly obvious lump of stinky baggie under its sheet was untouched.

I guess the takeaway is either that postal inspectors don't give that much of a shit about weed or they're incredibly kindhearted about birthdays. It wasn't my birthday, of course, but how would they know. I shat myself at every knock on the door for weeks.


This exactly matches one of my stories; there must have been a de minimis rule around small enough helpings of the Kind Bud.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:54 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]




Thanks, Corinth. That proceeded exactly as I suspected it would. Postal service (and competitors) notify police, both groups keep a log, once a specific quota is reached they arrest the individual.

Relevant portions of the article:

"Morton . . . had been receiving shipments of marijuana from California in Express Mail parcels. Six of the packages aroused suspicion last month at the Loyola Avenue mail-processing center.‎

Morton avoided prosecution on all of the charges he faced except money laundering after agreeing to cooperate with federal authorities, according to law enforcement officials.

‎The packages, which cost a total of $276 to ship, had been addressed to Morton’s mailbox at a third-party mailing center called Pack Rat Shipping Services, on Magazine Street.‎

Undercover agents delivered the packages to Pack Rat on May 14 and then kept “constant surveillance” until Morton arrived to pick them up and loaded them into an SUV. The investigators followed Morton to his apartment and then obtained a search warrant for the residence.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service intercepted 20 percent more parcels containing marijuana in fiscal year 2013 compared with the preceding year, according to U.S. News & World Report.‎"
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 7:21 PM on August 25


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