THE SILK ROAD, for all its clever uses of security protections like Tor and Bitcoin to protect the site’s lucrative drug trade, still offered its enemies a single point of failure. When the FBI seized the server that hosted the market in October and arrested its alleged owner Ross Ulbricht, the billion-dollar drug bazaar came crashing down.
If one group of Bitcoin black market enthusiasts has their way, the next online free-trade zone could be a much more elusive target.
At a Toronto Bitcoin hackathon earlier this month, the group took home the $20,000 first prize with a proof-of-concept for a new online marketplace known as DarkMarket, a fully peer-to-peer system with no central authority for the feds to attack. If DarkMarket’s distributed architecture works, law enforcement would be forced to go after every contraband buyer and seller one by one, a notion that could signal a new round in the cat-and-mouse game of illicit online sales.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Amir Taaki, one of DarkMarket’s creators and the founder of the anarchist group Unsystem, in a short speech at the Toronto Bitcoin Expo unveiling the project. He compared DarkMarket’s improvements on the now-defunct Silk Road to the advent of Bittorrent, a decentralized technology that revamped Napster’s more vulnerable model of filesharing and flummoxed copyright enforcers. “Like a hydra, those of us in the community that push for individual empowerment are in an arms race to equip the people with the tools needed for the next generation of digital black markets.”