The rise and fall of Silk Road

Summary:How did the mysterious Silk Road marketplace rise -- and fall?

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:

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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