silkroad story of first darkweb market

Silk Road – Tale of first darknet market

Silk Road was an internet black market and the first modern-day darknet market. It was founded by Ross William Ulbricht (also known as Dread Pirate Roberts) born in Texas, the U.S. who had a different ideology.

He believed everyone should have the right to buy, sell whatever they want as long as they did not harm anyone.

If we summarise it, it made Ulbricht a millionaire, and later a convict.

It may sound like a Hollywood movie but it is true. Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves narrated a 2015 documentary on the Silk Road legend called Dark Web which chronicles the rise and fall of the black market and its founder.

Initial Days

SilkRoad was first launched in February 2011. Ulbricht started his dark web marketplace development in 2010. It was a side project to Good Wagon Books. The project was designed to use Tor and bitcoin. It was destined that his marketplace to become the catalyst for a revolution.

When it started, there were a limited number of new seller accounts available. So, every new seller has to purchase a merchant account in an auction. Later, each merchant has to give a fixed fee.

How did it work?

As it operated as a Tor hidden service, users considered communications on Silk Road were entirely anonymous. Besides, transactions on Silk Road could only be made using bitcoins.

For customers, the main benefit it had over its rivals was that it was trustworthy.

Same like eBay, it would match consumers and dealers, allows both parties to rate each other, and provide products to be delivered directly to customers’ doors through the unsuspecting mail service.    

His website connected nearly 4,000 drug traders around the world to sell their drugs to more than 100,000 buyers, and could you get you anything you want from fake documents to top-quality heroin.

It is estimated that in its very short span, over $1 billion transferred through Silk Road, giving Ulbricht a secret fortune of an estimated $28 million at the time of his arrest.

Products in Silk Road

Initial listings on Silk Road were to be restricted to products that resulted in ‘victimless crimes’. On that foundation, products linked to the likes of stolen credit cards, assassinations, weapons of mass destruction and child pornography were banned.

Silk road products

Ulbricht was unable to maintain the website standards that he had initially considered and indeed had eased the policy on forbidding the sale of weapons based on a view that increased firearm regulations were making it more difficult for oneself to buy guns, in contradiction with his libertarian values. Besides, as the site evolved, more and more ‘contraband’ products started to be posted.

They also had legal services and products for sales, such as art, apparel, books, jewelry, cigarettes, erotica, and writing services. An associate site, called “The Armoury”, sold weapons (essential firearms) during 2012, but was closed, due to a lack of demand.

The End of the Silk Road

Even though the officials were aware of the presence of Silk Road in the dark web within a few months of its launch, it took over a couple of years for Ulbricht’s identity to be revealed.

Ulbricht may have added a reference to Silk Road on his LinkedIn profile, where he addressed his desire to “use economic theory as a means to end the use of coercion and aggression amongst humanity” and also declared, “I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”

He relocated to San Francisco before his capture.

In mid-2013, an investigator Gary Alford first related Ulbricht to “Dread Pirate Roberts”, who was working with the DEA on the Silk Road case.

The link was made by connecting the username “altoid”, which Ulbricht used during his early days to announce the darknet market and a forum post in which he, using the nickname “altoid”, requested for programming help sharing his email address, which included his full name.

On an October midday in a public library in San Francisco, Ulbricht’s goal of an online libertarian paradise came to a sudden end. The FBI had finally caught up with Ulbricht having infiltrated the Silk Road.

At the time of his arrest, he was logged into his Silk Road Market as an administrator and using was his Dread Pirate Roberts pseudonym to unknowingly communicate with a secret FBI representative. They discovered that his seized laptop had tens of millions of dollars of bitcoin on it, with millions more stored on USB drives found in his apartment.

The laptop also had Ulbricht’s private diary, which contained damaging evidence against him. Within hours of his capture, Silk Road’s domain had been seized, the online black market was shut down and Ulbricht’s grand plans to make the world a better place were in chaos.

silkroad seized

Aftermath – Silk Road

As part of their probe into Silk Road, the FBI had caught up with several other Silk Road users and administrators while hunting for Dread Pirate Robert. Prosecutors alleged that Ulbricht paid $730,000 to others to commit the murders, although none of the murders occurred.

The Feds seized 26,000 bitcoins from accounts on Silk Road, it was estimated 3.6 million USD at the time. An FBI spokesperson said that the agency would sell the bitcoins once Ulbricht’s trial finishes.

The FBI announced that it had grabbed 144,000 bitcoins belonged to Ulbricht, worth $28.5 million in October 2013.

The complaint issued when Ulbricht was arrested held information the FBI gained a system image collected from the Silk Road server on 23 July 2013.

It noted that “From February 6, 2011, to July 23, 2013, in two years there were approximately 1,229,465 transactions performed on the site. The total revenue generated from these sales was 9,519,664 Bitcoins, and the Silk Road collected total commissions from the sales amounted to 614,305 Bitcoins. These are equivalent to approximately $1.2 billion in revenue and $79.8 million in commissions, at current Bitcoin exchange rates…”, according to the September 2013 complaint, and involved 146,946 buyers and 3,877 vendors.

On 27 June 2014, the U.S. Marshals Service auctioned 29,657 bitcoins online in 10 blocks, estimated to be worth $18 million at that time. It is only about a quarter of the seized bitcoins. Another 144,342 bitcoins which had been found on Ulbricht’s computer were kept, roughly $87 million.


On 13 January 2015, Ulbricht’s trial began in federal court in Manhattan. When the trail started, Ulbricht admitted to founding the Darkweb market Silk Road but he claimed to have transferred control then to other people soon after establishing the site.

During the second week of the trial, prosecutors presented documents and chat logs from Ulbricht’s seized computer that, they said, showed how Ulbricht had administered it for many months, which denied the defense’s claim that Ulbricht had relinquished control of the site. Ulbricht’s lawyer proposed that the chat logs and documents were planted inside by way of BitTorrent (a torrent downloading client), which was running on Ulbricht’s computer during the time of his arrest.

On 4 February 2015, Ulbricht was convicted of seven different charges, including charges of engaging in a criminal enterprise organization, computer hacking, money laundering, and narcotics trafficking. They sentenced him 30 years to life in prison.

The government also accused him of funding for the murders of at least five people, but there is no evidence to prove that the murders were carried out, and the allegations never became formal charges against Ulbricht.

During the trial, Judge Forrest received death threats. Users of “The Hidden Wiki”, a dark web website posted the judge’s personal information there, which was having her Social Security number and address. Ulbricht’s attorney Joshua Dratel stated that he and his client “obviously, and as strongly as possible, condemn” the anonymous postings against the judge.

In a letter to Judge Forrest before his sentencing, Ulbricht declared that his activities in Silk Road were committed through libertarian idealism. It stated that “Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices” and admitted that he made a “terrible mistake” which “ruined his life”.

On 29 May 2015, Ulbricht was ordered to serve five sentences concurrently, which includes two for life imprisonment without any possibility of parole.
In addition to his prison sentence, he was also ordered to pay more than $183 million. His lawyer Joshua Dratel said that he would appeal the sentencing and the original guilty verdict.

On 31 May 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Second time denied his appeal and repeated the judgment of conviction and life sentence.

Ulbricht’s family is still fighting and continues to campaign to “free Ross Ulbricht from a barbaric, double life sentence for all non-violent charges”. They also have a website in place to accept donations towards their lawyer fees.

Buying and hosting a onion site

What is Onion Domain? Buying and hosting a .onion site on Tor

A .onion domain is a top-level domain suffix that is specially used as an anonymous hidden service and can be accessed through the Tor network. Onion sites are not present in WWW and Regular browsers won’t be able to navigate through the relay of proxy servers that will take users to your website. The address of an onion website can only be accessed through the Tor anonymity browser.

Onion addresses are not DNS names as the .onion TLD is not in the Internet DNS root. But with suitable proxy software and by sending the request via the Tor server network, sites with .onion addresses can be accessed.

How Onion domain is different from an ordinary domain?

Ordinary web domains, like .com, .org, .biz, and others are issued by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). There are thousands of different domains out there, but not all of them can be used by everyone (like .apple, for example). Users have to submit proposals to ICANN to register a domain and sub-domain (the part before the period). There are usually costs associated with registering and maintaining the domain of your choice.

If you own or are looking to create a website, you may want to learn how to create a .onion site to protect yourself and your visitors.

Advantages of a .onion address

A .onion domain has a few key advantages over an ordinary domain (but a few drawbacks as well). Its key feature is that it can only be accessed using an anonymizing browser such as Tor browser. This is both a drawback and an advantage. Tor is the most popular browser for accessing onion sites but still many people don’t even know it exists, so it is difficult to get massive traffic on your .onion site.

But the advantage is that the Tor browser affords numerous layers of anonymity that are not available on more popular browsers. If you want to ensure near-total anonymity for both you and your visitors, you can’t do much better than a Tor address. You won’t need to hide your details from “whois” searches, and your ICANN account won’t be vulnerable to malicious takeovers. You will be completely in control of your privacy and your domain.

Domain Format

An onion address is a string of 16 (and in V3 format, 56) mostly random letters and numbers, followed by “.onion”.

These onion addresses are opaque, іnсоmрrеhеnѕіblе and non-mnemonic, 16-character alpha-semi-numeric hashes which are automatically generated whеn а hіddеn ѕеrvісе іѕ соnfіgurеd uѕіng а рublіс kеу. Unfortunately, these random strings cannot be any longer or shorter than 16 characters and are often hard to remember, making it difficult for users to memorize your website and easy for malicious users to create a similar but different domain to potentially confuse visitors.

Difference between v2 and v3 address

An onion address with 16 characters is referred to as a version 2 onion address, and one with 56 characters is a version 3 onion address.

For v2 address, Dесіmаl dіgіtѕ frоm 2 tо 7 аnd аnу lеttеr оf thе аlрhаbеt саn bе uѕеd tо сrеаtе thеѕе 16-сhаrасtеr hаѕhеѕ, whісh thuѕ rерrеѕеntѕ аn 80-bіt numbеr іn bаѕе32.

A v3 address has several advantages over v2:

  • Better crypto (v3 replaced SHA1/DH/RSA1024 with SHA3/ed25519/curve25519)
  • Improved directory protocol that leaks much less information to directory servers
  • Improved directory protocol with a smaller surface for targeted attacks
  • Better onion address security against impersonation
  • However, the downside (supposedly) of v3 is the effort you need to get users to enter that lengthy URL in their browser.

Vanity domain

If you have ever seen some fancy .onion domain, you probably wanted to have your own cool and beautiful domain too. Those are called vanity domain.

Dark web vanity domains are different from surface web domains. Dark web domains are intended to be hard to generate.

Ву соntіnuоuѕlу сrеаtіng hugе numbеrѕ оf kеу раіrѕ untіl а dеѕіrаblе URL іѕ fоund (whісh іѕ а соmрutаtіоnаl рrосеѕѕ thаt саn bе dоnе ѕіmultаnеоuѕlу), а humаn-rеаdаblе .оnіоn URL, lіkе thе оnе thаt bеgіnѕ wіth аn оrgаnіzаtіоn nаmе, саn bе ѕеt uр.

Creating a vanity domain – one featuring a recognizable word of your choice – is possible but computationally expensive. Facebook devoted considerable resources to achieving its .onion domain – facebookcorewwwi.onion – and they only needed 8 characters. Getting the exact 16 characters you want could take a single computer billion of years to achieve.

How to create a .onion domain yourself?

Getting a .onion domain is not only free but they are automatically generated by Tor. It is simple once you have completed the basic server installation procedure. Please read carefully and follow the below steps to create an onion domain. If you find this to be complicated, you can get the help of your tech friend.

1. Create a web server

Tor’s .onion service can give your existing webserver a .onion domain if it’s configured correctly. However, the powerful anonymity provided by Tor isn’t worth much if your server leaks personal data or information that advanced users could use to identify you. Tor suggests binding your server to localhost. When you set up your .onion services later, you’ll create a virtual port that visitors can connect through so you don’t reveal your real IP address.

Make sure you also scrub your server of any other information that might identify you, your IP, or your location. Remove any reference to your server’s information from any error messages that might be sent to visitors.

2. Configure your server’s .onion services

To do this, you’ll have to open your “torrc” file, which is a text file you received when you set up your Tor browser.

Once your setup is complete, turn on your Tor browser to generate a public key, or domain, for your website. After that, it’s up to you to distribute it and get people to visit your site. Just be sure not to share the private key with anyone!

How to buy a Tor hosting?

Even though you can host your onion domain which you created with the above steps. Our personal computer and laptops cant handle so much request from visitors for the site. So below are some of the Tor hosting sites available on the market. We don’t personally recommend any of these Tor hosting provider s. But you can check with them directly for your requirement and host your site.


With Impreza, you can manage everything with the cPanel interface and they also provide the option to buy unique vanity .onion domain. Also, there are No documents requested and No personal information is stored on their server. So there is No exposure of information. You can also buy hosting at their Offshore VPS servers and dedicated servers for more freedom and processing. You can pay with Bitcoin or any other crypto, it is safe, easy and free.

OneHost Cloud

OneHost Cloud provides Ultimate in Privacy with Tor Hidden Hosting and Tor Hidden Services to customers wanting to host their sites with their own onion address. Users can also either bring their own address or Receive a random onion address. You can manage and control the tor hosting site via a dedicated control panel accessible via an onion address. For easy file uploads and management, you can upload files via FTP or file manager. But the only downside is that Customers need to be able to manually upload and install WordPress if they want to use it.

OneHost Cloud has new v3 Onion Addresses available.  Customers can now choose between the new v3 addresses or v2 address space.

Don’t use proxies like Tor2web, onion.ly

Even though it is possible to access these hidden services with browsers such as Chrome, Edge, and Safari that are not Tor-aware by using like proxies like Tor2web, onion.ly. Uѕеrѕ lоѕе thеіr оwn аnоnуmіtу bу uѕіng а truѕtеd gаtеwау tо dеlіvеr thе соrrесt соntеnt.

It is not recommended to browse tor sites using such methods because the browser can bе fіngеrрrіntеd bу bоth thе gаtеwау аnd thе hіddеn ѕеrvісе, аnd thе uѕеr ІР аddrеѕѕ dаtа саn bе ассеѕѕеd. Іn оrdеr tо рrоvіdе а fаѕtеr раgе-lоаdіng thаn thе оffісіаl Тоr Вrоwѕеr, сасhіng tесhnіquеѕ аrе uѕеd bу these рrохіеѕ which is not secure.