Virtual reality is resembling real reality more and more. Just like in real life, there exists a dark, seedy underbelly of the internet called the dark web (not to be confused with the deep web) market, where you can literally buy anything illicit. For those of you who have never heard of it before, the dark-net is a bunch of commercial websites, running on applications such as Tor or I2P. Most of these sites act as digital black markets, selling drugs, weapons, counterfeit currency, stolen credit card information, forged documents, and other illegal goods. And they are completely anonymous, meaning no IP or DNS addresses can be traced back to the user. In order to avoid paper trails, the only form of currency allowed is Bitcoin.
One of the first (and most infamous) markets was Silk Road, founded by Ross Ulbricht in 2011. After gaining notoriety when Gawker published an article about the site, the government took notice and it was shut down by the DEA and Department of Justice in 2013 after a lengthy investigation. Silk Road pioneered the use of use of Tor, bitcoins, and feedback systems (which set the standard for the darknet markets that would follow).
After the original Silk Road marketplace got taken down by the DEA, new ones such as Atlantis, Project Black Flag (which stole its users bitcoins right before it shut down), and Sheep Marketplace. When dealing with illicit sales, don’t be surprised if the market you put your transaction in vanishes overnight…along with your money. Last March, the biggest dark-net site at the time, Evolution marketplace, shocked users with their ‘exit scam.’ The market was scared they were being targeted by authorities and ran off with $12 million worth of bitcoins from their customers and sellers. The sellers never got their money and the patrons never got their goods. Black Bank and Agora quickly replaced Evolution, but Black Bank performed a similar scam and Agora has been been temporarily closed since August, citing “suspicious activity” on their server.
Getting on the dark web isn’t the same as opening your browser and Googling “buy drugs.” First of all, you need to download an application called Tor; search the “clearnet” (normal internet) for the address of whichever site you wish to visit. Dark-net sites have complicated addresses that you must hand type that end in “.onion”; some darknet sites will not let you create an account unless you are invited, so you might have to browse forums to get that information; then, you will have to transfer your money into bitcoins. If you want to be safe, it can be a tedious process.
Be aware that you’re giving out your name and mailing address to a complete stranger on the dark web whenever you order a product, running the risk of being doxxed. Furthermore, the information could fall into the wrong hands (like the DEA) and be used to prosecute you. Worse yet, if the “dealer” you are buying from is actually the government, then the package you ordered might come with a glock to your head; this is called “controlled delivery.”
Anyone can pose as a vendor on dark-net and sell goods. The only way to verify if the seller is legitimate is by their feedback rating. Yes, darknet markets run like amazon or ebay, where the seller is given reviews and an aggregate percentage score. But the score system isn’t foolproof and you will always run the risk of getting fake goods. This is especially dangerous if you’re buying substances which you will ingest.
So before you rush off to buy a pound of cocaine or a semi-automatic rifle, know that there are many challenges and risks when it comes to using the dark web.