Silk Road

Silk Road today lists more than 10,000 items, 7,000 of which are drugs, with erotica, books and fake IDs among the rest. Notably missing are weapons of any sort (a sister site selling weapons shut due to lack of demand last year) and child pornography, both of which are banned.

Dr Nicolas Christin, who researched the site, believes Silk Road is far bigger today than it was in July 2012 when his fieldwork ended. “It’s not a matter of the police locking a few guys up to end this,” he said. “It is very distributed: we are looking at more than 600 sellers each month.”

How has a marketplace with millions of pounds of revenue survived the long arm of the law? The answer, according to its users, lies in the way it is structured.

Silk Road is no secret to law enforcement, who know where to find it online €“ indeed, shortly after the site’s existence was first reported in 2011, the senior US senator Chuck Schumer vowed to shut it down.

“It’s a certifiable one-stop shop for illegal drugs that represents the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen,” he said.

The site continued uninterrupted, thanks to two technological innovations that make it all but impregnable.

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