The new destination for illicit drugs and fake IDs may be found on a lesser-known anonymity service called I2P.
A new anonymous online drug market has emerged, but instead of using the now infamous Tor network, it uses the little known "I2P" alternative.
"Silk Road Reloaded" launched today, and is only accessible by downloading the special I2P software, or by configuring your computer in a certain way to connect to I2P web pages, called 'eepsites', and which end in the suffix .i2p.
It's not just the switch to I2P that marks a change. Whereas the original Silk Road and its successor Silk Road 2 exclusively accepted Bitcoin, Silk Road Reloaded will process transactions in other cryptocurrencies by converting them into Bitcoin through the site's built in wallet. They include Anoncoin, which, as the name suggests, is the more anonymity focused cousin of Bitcoin. Darkcoin is also listed, which last November became an acceptable form of currency on Nucleas, a Tor marketplace. You can also use Dogecoin, the meme-inspired altcoin, as well as the more established Litecoin. In all, eight different altcoins are accepted, with others slated to join soon. The administrators say on the site that they are open to suggestions on other coins to use, and will consider it if you contact them.
The administrators of online markets have typically made their money by taking a small slice of the profits from those selling drugs on their site. Silk Road Reloaded does the same, but it will also take a 1 percent conversion fee whenever an altcoin is converted into Bitcoin on the site.
"All functions are completely enabled and fully functional," says a message on the site, posted today. "Sample data is being removed. Current vendor(s) your products will show shortly. Thank you all for making the site launch a success!"
At the time of writing, it appears that the listings are placeholders, with no concrete details on what it actually being sold. These have been listed by 'SysAdmin', and judging by the announcement on the site, this will change shortly, being replaced by real products.
The catalog lists many of the things we've come to expect from an online marketplace, including drugs, counterfeit money and IDs, hacking tools, and fake clothing. Notably absent are weapons and stolen credit card details, something which some Tor sites, such as Evolution, now sell in abundance.
This lack of weapons and stolen data may be due to the site owner's apparent political beliefs: it appears that the site owners subscribe to the same libertarian motivations that inspired the original Silk Road. "Who are we? Ones who care about true freedom, self-ownership and self-possesion. Yes believe it or not you own yourself," the site reads.
"What exactly does this mean? Many things but, first and foremost that we nor anyone else has the right/privilege to tell you what to do with your person, on any level except/unless you cause harm to someone's property/person."
"We created this to allow the most basic of human activities to occur unimpeded, that being trade. It's not only a major disruption of progress but, it is an interference to control someone to the degree that their free will is compromised. We may not be able to stop this but, we certainly won't contribute to it.
"Enjoy the site."
Naturally, Silk Road Reloaded has its own forum as well. At the moment, there isn't a single posting, but it seems to function normally.
I contacted the owners of the site using the inbuilt messaging system, but haven't yet received a reply. I wanted to ask why they had made the switch to I2P from Tor. To speculate, the recent tide in security worries about Tor may have contributed to this move; even if those worries were ultimately unjustified and Tor remains robust.
Although both Tor and I2P are anonymity networks, there are some key differences. One of those differences is the greater degree of decentralisation that I2P offers.
"Tor takes the directory-based approach - providing a centralized point to manage the overall 'view' of the network, as well as gather and report statistics, as opposed to I2P's distributed network database and peer selection," according to the I2P website. Whereas Tor relies on a set of relays run by volunteers, and then people use their computer to connect to the network, I2P takes a peer-to-peer approach, and makes every user's computer a node in the network itself. "Essentially all peers participate in routing for others," the I2P site reads.
Other differences pointed out on the I2P site include that Tor is much more well funded, originating as a project by the US Naval Research Laboratory and continues to receive the bulk of its support from the US government. Tor is large enough to have adapted to denial-of-service attempts—cyberattacks that attempt to overwhelm it with simulated traffic—and generally has a much larger user-base and lively community. While Tor's developers are open about their involvement in the project, and use their real names, I2P developers are known only by pseudonyms.
The "about" section of the I2P website reads very similarly to that of the Tor Project's. "I2P is used by many people who care about their privacy," the site reads, "activists, oppressed people, journalists and whistelblowers, as well as the average person."
Silk Road Reloaded is an important development in the world of online drug trading. Even if it doesn't take off quite just yet, or even falls apart completely, it shows that people are willing to explore alternatives to the established formula of Tor and Bitcoin. In what must be worrying for law enforcement agencies, who recently boasted about taking down hundreds of deep web sites, Silk Road Reloaded shows that drug markets are far from dead. Instead, they are becoming more plentiful, and more diverse.