The Bulletin

The rise and fall of Silk Road

Posting in Design

Silk Road was a digital marketplace designed to protect traders and sellers exchanging illegal goods -- including hacking tools and drugs -- until it was closed down this month.

Although some users maintain the marketplace -- hidden within the "deep" Internet -- is also used to trade for legal goods, law enforcement agencies worldwide have recently shut down the site and arrested its alleged creator.

But how does it work? There are two main facets to Silk Road that makes tracking users more difficult. The marketplace is accessed via the Tor network to camouflage digital footprints, and a Bitcoin "tumblr" was used to hide transaction trails.

U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) prosecutors say that the site's alleged creator, Ross William Ulbricht -- otherwise known as "Dread Pirate Roberts" -- "deliberately set out to establish an online criminal marketplace outside the reach of law enforcement and government regulation."

Police agencies have arrested the alleged site creator, and the National Crime Agency (NCA) said in a statement that four U.K.-based men are currently being investigated by the agency for their managerial roles in Silk Road.

NCA Director General Keith Bristow says there are "many more [arrests] to come," and that trading in the deep areas of the Internet will not protect criminals once law enforcement becomes involved.

If you're interested in the history of Silk Road, an infographic published by has created a snapshot of the rise and fall of the ecommerce site, posted below:

— By on October 10, 2013, 6:21 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure