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    Dark Web Drug Markets Are Desperately Clinging to the Silk Road Brand

    Written by

    Joseph Cox

    Contributor

    Screengrab of Silk Road 3.0 landing page.

    The original Silk Road is something of a legend now. Since the drug marketplace launched in 2011, around 90 similar sites have emerged, many offering their own idiosyncratic twist on the trusted formula of marrying the anonymity network Tor with the digital currency Bitcoin.

    Plenty of those markets have cemented their own legacy on the dark web, such as the now-defunct Agora and Evolution marketplaces, which at one point raked in over half a million dollars everyday in revenue. Some, however, are still desperately trying to cling onto the original fascination of Silk Road, by stealing its name and likeness.

    “Silk Road got shut down, owner sentenced to life. Silk Road 2.0 also got shut down, owner receiving sentence in december. Silk Road 3.0 is alive and kicking,” a tipster named Scytale emailed Motherboard, who also provided a link to the latest Silk Road copycat.

    The site currently has around 2500 different listings for drugs, a relatively small number compared to sites like Evolution that at one point boasted nearly 15,000 individual advertisements. All the usual stuff is there, including cocaine, methamphetamine and cannabis.

    “Welcome to Silk Road 3.0. We are an anonymous, professional and peaceful marketplace selling all sorts of goods and services. I am honored to welcome you to our community,” reads an automatically generated message from the site owner, who has also decided to take it upon himself to adopt the moniker of the original Silk Road's leader, Dread Pirate Roberts.

    “There is no judgement, censorship or repercussion here. We are truly free.”

    When the first Silk Road was busted by the FBI in October 2013, a replacement shot up barely a month later. (Ross Ulbricht, the 31-year-old convicted mastermind behind the original Silk Road, is currently serving a life sentence.) Silk Road 2.0, as it was known, was a genuine successor: staff and community members from the original Silk Road banded together to keep the idea of a free, anonymous market alive and kicking.

    But, after that one was also closed down by authorities a year later, copycats, with no links to the original staff members or creator, were launched.

    One of those was Silk Road Reloaded, which instead of being hosted on a Tor hidden service made use of I2P, another anonymity network. With only a handful of listings and users, Reloaded was barely a marketplace:

    And it turns out this latest Silk Road might just be a purposefully re-branded version of another, largely forgettable drug marketplace.

    “This is the official link of ‘Silk Road 3’ - that was previously ‘Diabolus,’” Deep Dot Web, the maintainer of a news site that follows the markets, told Motherboard in an email.

    The idea of anonymous marketplaces might have spread at a colossal rate since the original Silk Road was knocked down, but these cheap sites just act as an embarrassment to the original. Perhaps it's time to let Silk Road die.