The Digital Weed Pervading the Deep Web


Most days I walk to the train station near my house. On my walk, I pass by an enormous blackberry bush. It literally covers the whole corner of the street.

The council comes around occasionally to cut it back. Then what seems like only a day later it’s twice the size it was the day before. It looks horrendous — a massive, sprawling, mangled, ugly thicket of stems and thorns.

I don’t want its thorns to catch me, so I’ll usually cross the road to avoid it. Sometimes the wicked stems protrude out onto the sidewalk. I’m afraid if it catches me, it’ll engulf me. I’ll struggle, but it’ll pull me deep into its hideous centre, scratching me the more I thrash. Then eventually it will digest me and turn me into the black-hearted berries that populate its vicious stems.

This carnivorous bush is near a school. I’m certain it’s fed on careless kiddies as they innocently stroll by, unaware of the monster that is this bush…

Horror stories aside, the thing is a genuine weed. And one afternoon, walking home from the station, I carelessly passed by the blackberry bush and got a little too close.

I was lucky enough it didn’t pull me into its black heart (this time). But a glance at my left forearm revealed at least a half dozen scratches that, though small, were incredibly painful.

And boy did I curse that blackberry bush. Good thing the school kids weren’t around (or maybe they’d already fallen victim to the bush).

But more than anything, I was annoyed that my own carelessness got me in trouble. Where I’d normally skip to the other side of the street to avoid the monster, this day I just ambled on by…and paid the price.

While I was putting antiseptic cream on my arm, I couldn’t stop thinking about this stupid weed. I wanted to take to it with a chainsaw. But I knew that would only spread the weed further.

The digital weed the feds can’t control

Weeds are interesting plants. For starters, they can be any kind of plant really. The defining aspect of a ‘weed’ is its lack of value and use…and of course that they grow where they aren’t wanted.

The blackberry bush is one of the most annoying weeds in the world. According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), ‘Recognised as one of the worst weeds in Australia, blackberry was declared a Weed of National Significance (WoNS) in 1999.’

The blackberry is particularly annoying because of its vigorous growth. It spreads at mind blowing speeds. The DPI estimates it covers at least 9 million hectares of land in Australia. Mind blown.

Weeds exist in the digital world too. They nestle into their corner of the internet infrastructure and bury their roots deep with great strength.

And there they sit, and grow…and grow…getting bigger and scarier. Like any weed, you’ll have to cut it back. But when you cut back digital weeds, they grow back even stronger.

And the more you cut them back, the more they seem to grow. So what’s the answer? Do you control the weed or try and eliminate it? If you control it, you allow it to exist. If you try to eliminate it, you risk spreading it further…deeper.

The digital weeds I’m talking about are illegal marketplaces that exist on the internet’s ‘deep web’.

You probably heard of Silk Road. It was one of the original deep web illegal marketplaces. You could buy guns, drugs, passports, licenses and even hire hit men on Silk Road. It was a big catalyst for the rise of Bitcoin. Silk Road gave notoriety to Bitcoin, leading to the cryptocurrency’s meteoric rise in 2013.

But on 2 October 2013, the FBI arrested Ross William Ulbricht, the alleged owner of the Silk Road site, and shut down Silk Road soon thereafter. Ulbricht is still currently on trial for myriad offences.

But that’s not the story here. Silk Road wasn’t the only illegal marketplaces in operation. Sheep Marketplace and Black Market Reloaded were two of Silk Road’s biggest competitors. Sheep Marketplace shut down around the same time as Silk Road after a massive Bitcoin theft. And then, because of a mass influx of new customers, Black Market Reloaded also went offline.

However, within a month of Silk Road’s demise, Silk Road 2.0 (SR2) came online. And for the last year Silk Road 2.0 has been in full swing. According to Ars Technica, ‘By October 2014, the site was generating about $8 million in monthly sales and $400,000 in monthly commissions.’

Cut down one and another 400 grow

But then, last week, the feds shut down SR2 and arrested the alleged operator, Blake Benthall. Along with SR2, the feds also shut down over 400 other sites on the deep web.

Clearly, the feds have managed to develop some new tools in their hunt to shut down illegal operations on the deep web. But if the past is anything to go by, they haven’t just shut down 400 deep web sites — they’ve helped to spawn 160,000 new ones.

It’s speculated that the feds used a range of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to shut down the deep web sites. And going a bit ‘old school’ with a bit of Cold War style espionage, they sent in a mole that infiltrated SR2 and made his way onto the staff payroll.

Also, according to the FBI, ‘The server was controlled and maintained during the relevant time by an individual using the email account ‘’ Linking it to Benthall was pretty cut and dry. Like my experience with the blackberry bush, Benthall’s carelessness led to his downfall.

But in cutting off the head of SR2 and other illegal deep web ‘weeds’, the FBI has only helped to encourage more of them. The communities that run these sites will quickly figure out how the feds did it and then make it harder for them to do it next time.

It’s a never ending battle between illegal operators and those trying to shut them down.

Perhaps the solution is to not shut down these sites at all…maybe that’s the worst thing to do. Maybe ‘management’ of these sites is the answer to the fed’s problem.

There will likely be a Silk Road 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 and so on. But perhaps Silk Road 3.0 will be owned and run by the feds themselves? It would make sense. It perhaps wouldn’t be the first time government agencies have ‘controlled’ rather than tried to eliminate illegal trade.

Would this be all that different to the CIA’s alleged involvement in the Iran-Contra affair in the 90s? I can’t say how involved the feds could get with the next generation of illegal deep web sites, but considering they’ve already used undercover agents to take down SR2, it’s a theoretical and possible next step. And being the deep web, users and the public would be none the wiser.

For now, it’s hard to say who has the upper hand — the feds or the anonymous criminals running these illegal deep web sites. One thing is for certain though: No matter what the feds do, they’ll never stop the spread of this digital weed.

Sam Volkering,
For The Daily Reckoning Australia

This article originally appeared in Tech Insider.

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Sam Volkering
Sam is Editor for Money Morning and it's small-cap and technology analyst. He spends his time hunting down the most exciting stocks on the planets, whether they’re potential-packed volatile small-caps or tech firms transforming our future through cutting-edge technologies. You can find more of Sam’s work over at Australian Small-Cap Investigator, where he shares the best small-cap stocks he finds on the ASX, or at Revolutionary Tech Investor where he reveals the latest breakthrough tech investment he’s discovered.

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deToke deVille
deToke deVille
1 year 11 months ago
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