Has 'Dark Web' Drug Marketplace The Silk Road Been Resurrected?

The alleged homepage to Silk Road 2.0, the successor website to Silk Road, is seen in a screenshot labelled Exhibit A from a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal complaint filed against Blake Benthall November 6, 2014. Reuters

Authorities shut down one of the most popular anonymous drug bazaars on the web, Silk Road 2.0, in October 2013. The online marketplace was part of the 'dark web', in which users could purchase illicit goods, like drugs and weapons, on sites invisible from standard search engines. Before it was shut down, Silk Road 2.0 grossed roughly $8 million in drug sales per month, typically in difficult-to-trace currencies such as bitcoin.

The U.S. Department of Justice charged San Francisco resident Blake Benthall, 26, on Thursday with operating the drug mecca, which he admitted to running minutes after his arrest, according to Business Insider. But Associated Press reports that another dark web destination — dubbed Silk Road 3.0 Reloaded — was already operating a day later via TOR, a global network connected through special browsers which are set up to encrypt web traffic.

Daily Dot speculates that the new drug bazaar was perhaps rebranded as Silk Road 3.0 Reloaded due to the previous marketplace's popularity (and now infamy) following the raid and Benthall's arrest. Originally the site had been called Diabolus Market, a "peaceful, simple and professionally run service with an expert development team" focusing solely on selling marijuana online. A representative from Silk Road 3.0 on Reddit told Daily Dot that the name change was the result of working with a high-ranking member of Silk Road 2.0, however, and wasn't due to opportunism given the newfound hype in the drug bazaar.

But several other underground websites paralleling Silk Road are also now open for business on the TOR network, according to an Associated Press report. Creators and supporters of TOR, which was initially created for the use of the U.S. Navy, claim that the anonymity and encryption protects users' privacy in an increasingly exposed world. Roger Dingledine, one of the network's co-creators, told AP that TOR doesn't "condone its use for these illegal activities."

These illegal activities have been raking in the cash, too. When Benthall was arrested, authorities seized nearly $100,000 in cash from his apartment and said that the conspirator had been making roughly $400,000 in monthly commissions from drug sales. Benthall was charged with money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic in controlled substances and conspiracy to traffic in fraudulent identifications.

Joseph DeMarco, a former federal prosecutor who led the computer crimes division of the U.S. attorney's office, told Associated Press that he was unsure that one "global solution" could halt illegal exchanges on the TOR network. He said: "There will always be an arms race between the bad guys and law enforcement."

Nevertheless, authorities are determined to shut down hubs of illegal exchange on the web. Several hotbeds for illicit online exchanges — Cloud Nine, Blue Sky and Hydra among them — have reportedly been dissolved, and millions in drugs, cash and digital currencies have been seized. 16 people were arrested in Europe the day after Benthall was arrested in California, according to authorities. In Europe, $1 million in digital currency and $225,000 worth of illicit goods — drugs, silver and gold among them — were obtained, reports Associated Press.