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They say that if you look hard enough, you
can find just about anything you want on the
internet- and if it’s not on the internet,
then it’s probably either on the dark web
or the deep web.
This was where savvy internet users could
access the now infamous Silk Road internet
marketplace- described as the eBay of vice,
Silk Road connected buyers and sellers who
were interested in exchanging everything from
weapons to drugs, and quite a few things in
But just what was the most notorious internet
site of all time really about?
Hello and welcome to another episode of The
Infographics Show- today we’re taking a look
at the rise and fall of the Darkweb’s Silk
The ‘deep web’ is made up of all the internet
sites not indexed by search engines, with
estimates saying that this deep web is actually
many times larger than the ‘real’ internet.
It’s not exactly hidden, but if you are a
normal internet user you simply can’t find
it because your search engines don’t know
how to- it’s kind of like having a map with
only one destination on it, you can’t see
all the branches and forks in the road that
lead to other destinations because they aren’t
written on your map.
Lurking below even this deep web though is
the infamous dark web, a place where you need
special software to actually access.
These websites notoriously tend to operate
outside of the law, and are the home of many
of the digital horror stories we sometimes
see come to light.
Few dark web websites though were as well
known or infamous as Silk Road.
A digital marketplace, Silk Road connected
buyers and sellers who used Bitcoin to exchange
goods and services which were almost overwhelmingly
To access this hidden marketplace a user needed
a client such as Tor onion network- a software
program ironically developed by the US navy
that enables online anonymity.
But what was the Silk Road really about?
Silk Road was developed by Ross ‘Dread Pirate
Roberts’ Ulbricht, a young self-described
libertarian with a degree in physics from
the University of Texas and a Masters in Engineering
from Pennsylvania State University.
After graduating, Ulbricht became a research
assistant at his alma mater, but after deciding
he didn’t want to be a full-time scientist,
he tried to form a number of startups including
an online book store.
None of these attempts panned out however,
and Ulbricht took his talents to Silicon Valley,
hoping to join the digital start-up community.
Skeptical of the government’s War on Drugs
and holding strong libertarian views, Ulbricht
developed an online marketplace in 2011 which
he named after the historical trade route
network that linked Europe to East Asia: the
Ulbricht claimed to have started this marketplace
of vice with a noble purpose, wanting to make
the world a better place and “to use economic
theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion
and aggression among mankind.”
A completely unregulated and free market,
Ulbricht wanted to empower users to decide
for themselves what they wanted to put into
their bodies, as well as save them the danger
of having to deal with shady drug dealers
or falling afoul of the law.
The site matched buyers and sellers and even
let users rate each other in order to build
trust within this anonymous network.
Transactions were to be made with bitcoin,
which while not completely anonymous were
a great deal safer than using credit card
transactions to buy illegal drugs with.
While originally setting up the site Ulbricht
claims that he wanted to restrict content
to what he considered ‘victimless crimes’-
though try telling a heartbroken family just
how victimless a crime it is to enable a serious
and destructive drug habit.
Listings to child pornography, stolen credit
cards, assassinations, and weapons of mass
destruction were banned, and a survey in 2013
showed that 70% of all listings were indeed
As the site grew in popularity and began generation
more cash however, Ulbricht- as so often is
the case for self-described idealists- began
to relax the policies he set in place and
weapons began to be sold on the website.
Claiming that this choice was brought on by
increasing regulations on firearm purchases
which clashed with his idealistic libertarian
views, Ulbricht offered no explanation for
why other contraband products also began to
grow, to include the sale of child pornography.
Perhaps Silk Road had grown too big for Ulbricht,
or perhaps the millions in cash he was earning
spoke louder than his stated principles.
It might seem nuts to buy your drugs online
and have them mailed to your house, but Silk
Road provided a level of anonymity which protected
its users for years, even as the FBI launched
a full-scale investigation.
Buyers and vendors could rate each other based
on quality, reliability,and price, which helped
spark confidence from other users.
Orders were nearly always fulfilled, with
the exception of the rare cases where the
authorities intercepted a shipment, and even
if intercepted, the recipients could simply
feign ignorance as to why this package of
drugs, guns, or child porn was being delivered
With no digital link to the site, no law enforcement
could produce charges against a customer for
simply receiving a package in the mail.
Over $1 billion dollars flowed through Silk
Road during its lifetime, and Ulbricht would
go on to make an estimated $28 million dollars
by the time he was arrested.
Authorities were aware of Silk Road within
just months of its launch, but a focused investigation
would take over two years to uncover Ulbricht’s
Law enforcement had to try and infiltrate
the network, then slowly track down suppliers
and administrators on a one-by-one basis.
Unfortunately for law enforcement, none of
Silk Road’s admins had ever learned Ulbricht’s
However over time, the FBI gradually flipped
Ulbricht’s closest associates and drew nearer
to their quarry.
Ironically for a man who created an entire
online marketplace that sold illegal goods
and depended on complete anonymity and secrecy,
Ulbricht himself would not be discovered by
a flipped informant, but by his own digital
A simple google search of Ulbricht’s handle:
Dread Pirate Roberts, revealed a connection
to another alias called ‘altoid’ that had
been an early promoter of Silk Road on another
That alias was then traced to a bitcoin forum
where Ulbricht had long ago posted his personal
Not exactly a pro move on Ulbricht’s behalf.
Though Ulbricht long professed his hopes to
use Silk Road to make the world a better place
and help people by letting them avoid dealing
with dangerous drug dealers, Ulbricht’s hypocrisy
was revealed in the final stages of the investigation
During the FBI’s investigation, they revealed
the identity of a Curtis Green, a middle-aged
father of two who worked as a seller and moderator
on the site.
Arrested by the FBI, Ulbricht feared that
Green would become an informant, and without
hesitation this libertarian idealist who just
wanted to help people immediately contacted
another associate and asked him to kill Green
This associate, known as ‘Nob’, turned out
to be a DEA agent who had infiltrated Silk
Road, and using the opportunity to get closer
to Ulbricht, Nob staged a killing of Curtis
Green after receiving a sum of $40,000.
After the faked assassination Ulbricht expressed
remorse, but said that it had been necessary.
If Ulbricht hoped to convince anyone of his
doe-eyed innocent pragmatism however it wouldn’t
work, as evidence later revealed that Ulbricht
had attempted numerous times to hire assassins
to kill others on his behalf- once even trying
to hire a member of the Hell’s Angels to kill
a Silk Road user that was blackmailing Ulbricht
by launching a denial of service attack against
Ulbricht would ultimately be exposed as another
greedy fraud, his lofty morals and ideals
immediately disregarded the moment profits
started being generated, even going so far
as trying to murder people to protect his
A US court would go on to hand Ulbricht double
life sentences with no possibility of parole
for his role in one of the largest drug trades
the world has ever seen, with charges of money
laundering, computer hacking, and drug trafficking.
Ross Ulbricht claimed to want to help people
and make the world a better place, but ultimately
all he did was allow criminal enterprises
actively hurting and killing people to easily
launder millions of dollars in cash, enable
self-destructive addicts around the world
to continue their terrible addictions, enable
the victimization and exploitation of children
to be used as sex slaves in online videos,
and put guns in the hands of criminals.
Claiming to foster libertarian values and
protesting what he considered government overreach,
Ulbricht ultimately would be exposed as a
fraud, interested in nothing more than keeping
the power he had earned and all the money
that came with it- no matter who got hurt,
or who he had to kill to do it.
The Dark Web can be a scary place, and not
one that most people know how to access.
But ask yourself, do you know if your personal
information being bought and sold on the Dark
Web right now?
How would you even find out?
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Drug laws may be overly harsh in many parts
of the world, but is free-for-all access really
the best solution?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Also, be sure to check out our other show
How Did He Become The King of Cocaine – Pablo
Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe.
See you next time.