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Shopping Robot Buys Drugs Online

Shopping Robot Buys Drugs Online

Author: Justin Mckibben

I have written before about how technology these days seems to be developing new and creative ways to innovate and enable the drug market for people. It’s like every time we turn around there’s news about the Dark Web, drug dealers going digital on Instagram, or a new app for our smartphones that helps us to purchase drugs, or assist us in trying to get away with drinking or getting high.

An experiment to test the boundaries of the Internet was recently conducted by a pair of Swiss artists. The artists loaded an online robot with Bitcoins, which is the digital currency that is used in some digital marketplaces, and unleashed it onto the Dark Web for the ultimate illicit shopping spree.

The Robot Arts

In this expression of art and experimentation, the robot in question was allowed to buy anything and everything it could find on the Dark Web. During this period the robot did indeed make many legitimate purchases, but then robot did happen to purchase some illegal drugs. We could easily assume the experiment was some sort of success, but now this incident is raising questions about the legality of such an action.

London-based Swiss artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, better known as !Mediengruppe Bitnik, coded what has been called the Random Darknet Shopper. This robot is an automated online shopping machine, and per Weisskopf and Domagoji’s directs it was programmed to buy various items online, using specifically $100 in Bitcoin per week on a digital black-market that lists over 16,000 items.

Weisskopf and Smoljo ultimately constructed a performance piece that was put on display in an exhibition that closed on January 11. The robot art was crafted around the weird stuff their robot acquired, including all types of randomized objects such as:

  • A pair of fake Diesel jeans
  • Abaseball cap with a hidden camera
  • Astash can
  • Apair of Nike trainers
  • Fake Hungarian passport
  • 200 Chesterfield cigarettes
  • Set of fire-brigade issued master keys
  • Fake Louis Vuitton handbag
  • 10 ecstasy pills

The problem came in with those illegal ecstasy pills and the contraband Hungarian passport. The line between artful expression and criminal action was crossed over when those purchases were made, and that fueled the question in Switzerland now as to whether these artists could be arrested under the law as it currently stands.

iBlame the Robot

So authorities in Switzerland are now faced with a strange question that seems to scifi to be a reality; if your online robot buys illegal drugs and contraband, are you yourself guilty of a crime?

As of now there was been no definitive answer. Ryan Calo, law professor from the University of Washington investigated the topic in paper called “Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw”. In his writing, Calo argued,

“Robotics has a different set of essential qualities than the Internet and, accordingly, will raise distinct legal issues. Robotics combines, for the first time, the promiscuity of data with the capacity to do physical harm; robotic systems accomplish tasks in ways that cannot be anticipated in advance; and robots increasingly blur the line between person and instrument.”

To some people Calo’s work may sound like the beginning of a conspiracy theorists ramblings, but is it really that far from the truth? Calo wrote even more on the topic an article for Forbes after hearing about the particular purchases made by the Swiss shopping-robot. In this writing Calo asked a tough question with the title of the piece alone: A Robot Really Committed A Crime: Now What? He then did his best to answer the question further on in the writing.

“If, for instance, the law says a person may not knowingly purchase pirated merchandise or drugs, there is an argument that the artists did not violate the law. Whereas if the law says the person may not engage in this behavior recklessly, then the artists may well be found guilty, since they released the bot into an environment where they could be substantially certain some unlawful outcome would occur.”

Calo went on to explain, saying that just wanting a bad outcome doesn’t make it illegal. We have not yet reached a reality of ‘thought-crime’ where our ill intentions can earn us punishment.  That being said, to purposefully let a robot run wild in the Dark Web until it yielded contraband seems hard to distinguish from intent, because some would assume you designed it with this exact intention.

At the moment we may not have the system in place to police robots, but how will we properly monitor people to predict and regulate a robots Internet activity? When a robot breaks the law, will people be held responsible? Or will people be allowed to traffic drugs and blame it on their robots?

In a future not too far away we may see a change in how the Internet, artificial intelligence, and drugs are connected and controlled. As far-fetched as it seems, this is only the next step in the question of how much harm technology has the capacity of creating. Technology is increasingly convenient, but these days it could be making drugs and alcohol a little too easy for people to abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call-toll free 1-800-951-6135

 

Dread Pirate Roberts of Silk Road Gets Full Conviction

Dread Pirate Roberts of Silk Road Gets Full Conviction

Author: Justin Mckibben

I have written a lot in the past about the controversy surrounding the infamous Silk Road and tracked the activities of Silk Road related arrests. The well-known Dark Web site has slowly but surely earned itself a reputation as a ‘name brand’ for black market online transactions, specifically for the sale and trafficking of illicit substances.

Since late 2013, there have been some key arrests made and some combative actions taken in attempts to dissolve the Silk Road, including:

  • In November 2013, the Silk Roadmarketplace was seized by the FBI, and Ross William Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts” was arrested on allegations of being the owner of the market.
  • Silk Road 2.0started up just months after the end of its predecessor under the control of Ulbricht’s second in command, who took up the “Dread Pirate Roberts” mantel.
  • Last December,federal agents arrested 3 of Silk Road 2.0′s administrators, and the second “Dread Pirate Roberts”, leaving Silk Road 2.0 in the care of his second in command, “Defcon”.

Most of the active vendors abandoned Silk Road 2.0 after a huge hack that lost a lot of money for the site, in favor of other large markets such as Evolution and Agora that provide better security. Now another major development in the Dark Web war on drugs has hopefully set the tone for the future of fighting online drug trafficking.

The Silk Road Story

At one point Silk Road was known as the “Amazon.com of drug dealing” and became such a pioneer in pushing poison via the digital underground by using secure technology and an advanced buyer/user feedback system.

  • According to evidence presented at the trial, under his alias Ulbricht first hatched Silk Road back in 2009.
  • The original Silk Road was launched in 2011
  • The site became a massive international online marketplace, where members hawked everything from heroin and cocaine to drug paraphernalia and other illicit items, like computer hacking programs.
  • Goods were sold anonymously and paid for with electronic currency bitcoins.

Prosecutors stated during the course of the trial that through charging a commission on all the transactions that took place through their forum with a percentage of the sale, the site was able to put together an estimated $18 million in net worth by the time of Ulbricht’s arrest.

The End of ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’

Ross Ulbricht, AKA the original ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ and the cyber mastermind behind the Silk Road’s online drugs marketplace, was officially found guilty on all charges this week after a trial lasting 3 weeks. Ulbricht was convicted of various charges, including but not limited to:

  • Drugs conspiracy
  • Money laundering
  • Trafficking

Today Ross ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ Ulbricht faces 20 years to life in prison for his involvement in the illicit internet empire that earned him a lot of bitcoin and a lot of attention.

Ross Ulbricht’s defense itself seemed a little weak. Ulbricht did admit in court that he had created Silk Road, but he then insisted that he had sold it and cut ties before being captured in 2013 by the FBI. His defense attorney claimed that the site was created as a harmless “economic experiment”, and that Ulbricht’s invention was later taken over by actual drug lords. Honestly it seems a little far-fetched, and apparently the jury wasn’t buying it either.

The verdict came down swift on Ulbricht, ultimately finding the ‘Dread Pirate’ of the cyber seas guilty on all of the charges brought against him.

Commenting on Ulbricht’s conviction, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said,

“should send a clear message” that “the supposed anonymity of the dark web is not a protective shield from arrest and prosecution.”

This is an important point to make, especially since the major selling point for the Silk Roads clientel was the illusion of immunity from arrest based on the idea that there was ‘secured internet anonymity’ on the site. After Silk Road was shut down, the digital drug game didn’t skip a beat, as the forum was taken down, it was soon replaced by Silk Road 2.0 whose alleged operator Blake Benthall was arrested last year and faces up to 10 years in prison.

Oh but the buck doesn’t stop there, because Silk Road 3.0 was quick to replace it, just not with nearly as much support. These online cartels seem to be not going down without a fight, but despite their resistance it seems all ‘Dread Pirates’ must go down with their ship.

While some people are doing everything in their power to spread the scope of the illicit drug trade, others simply want to keep it contained to protect those whose lives are devastated by drugs and alcohol. As the reach of the War on Drugs reaches into the Dark Web, those who suffer deserve a way out. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

 

Waging War on the Dark Web

Waging War on the Dark Web

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

The war against cyber drug cartel Silk Road stirred quite a bit of controversy in its first time online, and Silk Road 2.0 followed in stride with infamy and other services. Although the two sites were shut down after a series of investigations that unmasked young hackers claiming to be ‘revolutionaries’, another installment sprung up and the illustrious enterprise of the Dark Web was once again full of digital drug dealers.

Some users speculate this is only the beginning of a vast spreading web of elite internet empires, while other experts and authorities say that as time goes on, the quicker these sites are being shut down and the harder it will be for the hackers to escape. So with recent reports, let us take a look at the status of the war on the Dark Web.

Operation Onymous

Thanks to joint international law enforcement maneuvers code-named Operation Onymous, the servers and services of some sites were recently seized, throwing many online communities that hide behind virtual anonymity via the Tor network into a literal frenzy.

The action followed the arrest of Blake Benthall, Silk Road 2.0’s 26-year-old lead administrator. Benthall, also known by his online handle as Defcon, was apprehended in San Francisco after making a $72,000 bitcoin purchase. Bitcoin is the anonymous currency used on Silk Road.

The following day, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, working with 16 EU nations, made numerous press releases celebrating what some call a large win in the drug war, especially against the swelling dark-net market.

A total of 27 dark-net marketplaces were shut down alongside Silk Road 2.0, including largely ranked drug markets:

  • Hydra
  • Alpaca
  • Cloud 9
  • Cannabis Road

Reuniting the Dark Web

As if to rise up with a vengeance, a mere six weeks after the high-profile Operation Onymous seizures, business is once again sharp and seething at the dark-net marketplaces. While actual numbers are unavailable, the official marketplace list of Deep Dot Web indicates that black market entrepreneurs have opened several brand-new marketplaces, such as Middle Earth and SilkKitien.

As these sites keep up with business as usual, Real Hosting, an anonymous Tor hosting service, has reported numerous weekly requests from people interested in starting new ones. UK vendor of the powerful psychedelic drug DMT “ChemicalLiberty” stated recently on a forum at the Evolution marketplace.

“In our lifetime we will see massive revolution and redistribution of wealth and power. The unimaginable consequences of this transformation will happen faster than anyone dares predict.”

Robust declarations such as this have been standard among buyers and sellers even since the original manifestation of Silk Road back in February 2011. But is the confidence justified?

Trouble on Silk Road

Earlier articles have tracked the activities of Silk Road related arrests and actions being taken to further future efforts to combat this kind of cyber conduct, but just a few notes:

  • In November 2013, the Silk Road marketplace was seized by the FBI, and Ross William Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts” was arrested on allegations of being the owner of the market.
  • Silk Road 2.0 started up just months after the end of its predecessor under the control of Ulbricht’s second in command, who took up the “Dread Pirate Roberts” mantel.
  • Last December,federal agents arrested 3 of Silk Road 2.0′s administrators, and the second “Dread Pirate Roberts”, leaving Silk Road 2.0 in the care of his second in command, “Defcon”.

Most of the active vendors abandoned Silk Road 2.0 after a huge hack that lost a lot of money for the site, in favor of other large markets such as Evolution and Agora that provide better security.

Filling the Viral Void

The Evolution site has tripled its sales over the past five months, but this market accepts stolen credit card information and credit card dumps, a service widely viewed as immoral and contrary to the standard “victimless crime” mentality that Silk Road started with.

According to experts and researchers the libertarian ideals behind Silk Road were about giving everyone free choice. The dark-net smugglers of Evolution have surpassed drugs to the more frowned upon fraud. But not all of its members see credit-card fraud as a deal breaker.

Evolution does, however, draw some moral red lines, outlawing:

  • child pornography
  • murder/assassination/terrorism
  • sex and/or prostitution
  • Ponzi schemes and investment opportunities
  • lotteries and raffles

One site called Agora keeps a close relationship to the original Silk Road philosophies and bans stolen credit card information.

Silk Road 3.0 Reloaded

Veteran users of the hidden services may have abandoned Silk Road, but the name and brand have not been abandoned. A small marketplace called Diabolous quickly re-branded itself as Silk Road 3.0 Reloaded in an attempt to capitalize on the legend’s name.

But Deep Dot Web has banned the listing of the market due to the re-use of the Silk Road name, and many users recommend avoiding the newest imitation. Many users share the opinion that trying to keep the Silk Road name alive is counterproductive to the real cause behind it.

If authorities have the power to de-anonymize Tor, then these markets are done, because the Dark Web is only possible with Tor style networks.

The Truth of Tor

Tor is the most sophisticated means for hiding the physical locations of dealers utilizing the Dark Web while browsing, and also allows for the creation of hidden sites running off of servers that may not even “know” the sites are there.

Without the use of a network like Tor most internet drug marketplaces are shut down quickly and easily. When this happens a federal subpoena will reveal the records of whoever rents the server space, because there is no extra identity protection. Although even with this added security sites like Silk Road are getting taken down. That just goes to show there may be far too much vulnerability in Tor’s infrastructure to rely on the security.

The War on the Dark Web

Many hackers and vendors have not been deterred by the events that brought down the 27 sites, or the continued investigations into online drug trafficking. Most believe that as the war on the Dark Web rages, smarter programmers with stronger software and innovative tactics will rise up, and for every site taken down, more ‘revolutionaries’ will step up to fill the void.

James Martin is an Australian criminologist who actually had a similar opinion. As the author of Lost on the Silk Road, a study of how online communication technology is transforming crime, Martin believes that dark-web commerce is quite sustainable, and many marketers are in for the long haul. In an email he explained,

“As further site closures are achieved, the surviving cryptomarkets will adapt and improve site security. Unless there is a follow-up operation sometime soon, particularly one that results in a large number of arrests—something that Onymous did not achieve—then cryptomarkets will continue to grow and diversify.”

The supply and demand for drugs, and for making money off of drugs, has not been curtailed by these recent arrests and dismantled drug empires. The drug trade has existed long before these trafficking tactics, and some speculate that with smartphones and other new inventions constantly evolving the way the internet works we may be seeing even more fascinating innovations in how dealers avoid detection and use the wireless waves of the world’s WiFi to wage war on the Dark Web.

While opinions on Silk Road and the evolution of internet illicit drug industries have varied in capability and conception, the idea that the war on drugs is still alive may mean more difficult decisions for those desperately trying to escape addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.   

Follow-Up on Silk Road: Version 3.0 Already Getting a Bad Rep

Follow-Up on Silk Road: Version 3.0 Already Getting a Bad Rep

Author: Justin Mckibben

As if anyone would think computer hackers and programmers were in short supply, barely a few hours after authorities shut down Silk Road 2.0 last week the third installment of the online Dark Web drug market was launched. However, the new site has been met with great criticism.

New Kids or Old Tricks

Silk Road 2.0 was launched in response to the original Silk Road being shut down by the FBI, but Silk Road 3 Reloaded is actually a strategic name change from a website that was formerly named Diabolus Market. That site was launched just under a month ago as a ‘cannabis-only’ marketplace, but an automated email to users recent sent out described the site as “an anonymous, professional and peaceful marketplace selling all sorts of goods and services…there is no judgement, censorship or repercussion here. We are truly free.”

Initially is seems that the new site is simply attempting to ride the coat-tails of a more infamous enterprise. Even the automated messages from Silk Road 3 use the name Dread Pirate Roberts, which the original Silk Road founder went by. Ross William Ulbricht, the original Silk Road founder, was arrested last October by federal authorities. He is currently being charged with:

  • Soliciting murder
  • Drug trafficking
  • Money laundering
  • Facilitating computer hacking

The alleged operator of the new site even claims to actively be working with a member of the Silk Road 2.0 team. They wrote in an email

“He/she is using my code and servers but is operating SR 3.0 themselves. I don’t have anything more to say.”

Can’t Fool the Customers

Despite these supposed claims to the Silk Road fame, users remain skeptical and have not been pleased with the overall functionality of the new site. A regular user named Budflood wrote,

“The Silkroad [sic] 2.0 was designed with a lot more sophistication. This looks like it’s just been thrown together by a bunch of kids.”

Blake Benthall who launched Silk Road 2.0 was arrested last week and faces 10 years on charges including:

  • Conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking
  • Conspiring to commit computer hacking
  • Conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents
  • Money laundering conspiracy

He was reportedly second-in-command for Silk Road 2.0 until December 2013, but began running the website when its founder ceased operations following the arrests of the original Silk Road operators.

No doubt, this apparently cheap imitation of the Silk Road will eventually be brought down the same as the others, and sure enough until there is a better handle on the Dark Web, sites like these will keep cropping up to try and corner the digital drug market. With the evolution of drug dealing, and reform in drug policies, treatment must continue to evolve and address the issue to help those who still suffer, and there is help out there. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Silk Road 2.0 Shut Down

Silk Road 2.0 Shut Down

 

Author: Justin Mckibben

Silk Road was originally an internet black market used for digital drug dealing to be utilized for people to make massive sales and purchases without having to take the average dealers risk of riding around with large quantities of narcotics in their car, or meeting in shady alleys.

While the first Silk Road was shut down some time ago following an extensive investigation and the operator arrested, there was a new version that went online and active to take up the mantel, which has thankfully been put to an end as soon as possible.

The end of the line came up relatively quickly for Silk Road 2.0, a secretive online drugs marketplace created and modeled after the original “Amazon.com of drugs”. The plug was recently pulled on the second generation Silk Road 2.0. Today, the FBI announced they’ve put a swift and effective end to the second installment of the illicit drugs website, and taken its alleged owner, 26-year-old Blake Benthall, into custody.

The Illicit Legacy

The illegal Dark Web, which is only accessible by volunteer-operated encrypted networks like Tor, always attracts many “freedom-loving” types including libertarians, hackers and anarchists, as well as criminals of all kinds looking to make a change to their own enterprises through a ‘safer’ forum.

When the FBI arrested Ulbritch in 2013 he was placed in custody and faced trial on charges including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, computer hacking, and even conspiracy to commit murder.

During the brief absence of Silk Road rival marketplaces such as Agora and Evolution continued to operate. Agora quickly became the new standard for online drug transactions. Its main competitor, Black Market Reloaded, was shut down in November 2013 after its source code was leaked. After that, Sheep was the main competitor until it too went under—and stole a treasure in users’ bitcoin.

A big part of Black Market Reloaded’s success came from its willingness to sell lethal weapons, including dynamite and other explosives. Silk Road had no objection to offering a wide range of merchandise, but that site drew the line at weapons.

Passing the Torch

Silk Road 2.0 developed and went viral within a matter of weeks after owner Ross Ulbritch, known by the online alias “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was arrested in October of last year. Benthall, who is known online as “Defcon,” began operating Silk Road 2.0 that December, only a month after the site was launched by a co-conspirator who remains un-identified at this time. Given the nature of the crime and the collective evidence against “Defcon” the charges against Benthall could carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbritch had initially created Silk Road as a way to try and avoid the dangers typically associated with the sale and trafficking of illegal narcotics. Ulbritch’s end-game was to transform an infamously violent industry into a safe online marketplace for safe and lucrative business by removing the risk of face-to-face transactions with what he called “humanity’s first truly free, anonymous, unbiased marketplace.”

Transactions through this kind of Dark Web black-market style sites are made using Bitcoins and the websites operate in the shady areas of the Internet that are not indexed and therefore not easily obtainable by standard search engines. Other illicit services that were sold through this class of websites included everything from hacking-tools to hit-men.

The Investigation Information

According to the information collected during the investigation it was recorded that as of this past September, prosecutors claim that Silk Road 2.0 was generating at least an astounding $8 million a month. Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement:

“Let’s be clear – this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison.”

Benthall has entered a plea of not guilty as of this point. He is currently scheduled for trial in New York in January. In the meantime, many are wondering if this only means we will be expecting these hackers and digital drug dealers to upgrade their systems and strategies, and if so how long until we see the arrival of Silk Road 3.0.

While the digital age of drug dealing presents new problems for those who are fighting the war on drugs, it also presents a new problem for those struggling to overcome the disease of addiction. There have been several developments on how social media and the Dark Web intend to make drug dealing as easy as a download, but that puts more who have drug problems at even greater risk. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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