Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Online anonymity, bitcoin, illegal drug markets, and traditional law enforcement

If you were a Silk Road customer, you'll have to find another online drug market: F.B.I. Seizes Silk Road, an Online Drug Market, and Makes Arrest. But it sounds like while the organizer was arrested (after soliciting a murder for hire) the anonymity of transactions may have allowed many of the customers to escape detection.

"The Silk Road marketplace is available through Tor, a popular tool for maintaining anonymity online. Bitcoin, a virtual currency, is used for transactions. The identities of sellers are not known to the buyers. About $1.2 million in sales were conducted a month in early 2012, according to a study by an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Nicolas Christin.

"As part of the investigation into Silk Road, authorities said, they seized 26,000 bitcoins worth $3.6 million.

"The arrest is part of the latest push by federal authorities to police the anonymous marketplaces that have flourished as a result of virtual currencies and software meant to help users browse the Web anonymously. In recent months, federal authorities charged seven people believed to be linked to Liberty Reserve, another virtual currency, which prosecutors described as a $6 billion money-laundering operation that facilitated a black market for everything from stolen identities to child pornography.

"One recent study found that a broad range of drugs, including ecstasy, LSD and heroin, were available on Silk Road, but that marijuana was the most popular item offered for sale. Books and erotica are also sold.

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