June 07, 2011

Manchin taking on online drug distributor Silk Road | The Beckley Register-Herald

BECKLEY — Described as the “Amazon” of illicit substances, Silk Road, an online marketplace that specializes in selling products anonymously, is being targeted by two U.S. Senate Democrats, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

The idea of the website is simple, but technically, it is a complex model built for user anonymity. Even accessing the website requires a specially configured access via an anonymizing network.

On the website, users can pick up everything from prescription pills to heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana. 

Manchin and colleague Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote to the Attorney General and Drug Enforcement Agency expressing their concern over Silk Road.

Manchin said the battle against Silk Road is part of a larger fight against prescription drugs and pill mills, a problem officials say has been growing.

“We must confront this scourge everywhere we find it, whether it’s an online black market or in prescription pill mills flooding our state from Florida,” Manchin said in a release sent Monday. “I’ve talked to our doctors, law enforcement officers and community leaders about the total destruction drugs are causing in our communities, and there is no question that more must be done to address this growing threat to all of our families.”

Manchin also reiterated his support for legislation to combat synthetic drug use and “pill mills” that provide prescription drugs to those not using them for medical purposes.

While the latter asks top law enforcement officials to “take immediate action and shut down the Silk Road network” it also points to what may prove to be a difficulty in doing so.

“As you may know, Silk Road employs various layers of secrecy to ensure that the identities and activities of all users are obscured,” The co-written letter states. “By utilizing the anonymizing network TOR, Silk Road ensures that users’ tracks on the site are hidden. 

“The only method of payment for these illegal purchases is an untraceable peer-to-peer currency known as Bitcoins. After purchasing Bitcoins through an exchange, a user can create an account on Silk Road and start purchasing illegal drugs from individuals around the world and have them delivered to their homes within days.”

As the letter also points out, users of the site are asked to take measure to lower the chance the drugs could be detectable.

Fighting against the anonymity writes Adrian Chen, a writer for Wired Magazine, is not as simple as some other websites.

“If the authorities wanted to ID Silk Road’s users with computer forensics, they’d have nowhere to look,” Chen wrote in a June article for Wired.

However, though users are anonymous, the delivery of a product does require an address, Chen pointed out. A DEA agent setting up a fake account on Silk Road could result in a drug bust.

However, each user is given a rating based on user feedback, so it is difficult to estimate how successful those efforts would be.

By:  Taylor Kuykendall