Secret Server Boggles Secret Service
You may or may not have heard of Silk Road. A website that sells illegal goods such as drugs. A site that, for some reason, DEA officials cannot shut down — despite numerous attempts.
You might also remember this recent article. This article details the legalities behind a website and that site's owner. Simply put: website information must be made public, so that any illegal sites can be shut down. So, why is Silk Road still in operations? The answer lies in a server called ‘TOR.'
What Is ‘TOR'?
‘TOR' (The Onion Router)is an online anonymity system. All traffic to the site is channeled through a network of volunteer servers worldwide, which keeps the user's location and usage information a secret.
This ensures that law enforcement officials are unable to track the physical location of the computers that run the site, as the server's IP address is only accessible through a “pseudomain” which is Tor-specific.
Why Was ‘TOR' Created?
Why don't authorities just shut down ‘TOR?' Unfortunately, it's not that simple. TOR is funded by…wait for it…our very own US state department's Internet freedom budget.
Why? ‘TOR' is a tool relied on by activists in the U.S., China, Syria, and Iran. If ‘TOR' were shut down, an unfiltered and uncensored Internet experience for residents of these countries would no longer exist.
The US pumps about $30 million each year into programs that protect Internet freedom. The aforementioned website ‘Silk Road' takes the concept of a “secret server” one step further by using an Internet currency called Bitcoin.
Secret Server Boggles Secret Service: All About Bitcoin
Logically, federal agents should be able to track down consumers who are using sites like Silk Road. Tracing credit card and debit payments isn't that tough, so why aren't authorities going this route?
This is a few degrees shy of impossible due to the fact the transactions on sites like Silk Road are conducted with Bitcoins rather than cash or credit cards.
Bitcoins are essentially a type of Internet currency that's traded like money, and a large number of businesses using it are actually web hosting companies. WordPress and Reddit also accept Bitcoins.
Bitcoins are not controlled by any government or group. Instead, math is king: complex, brain draining calculations that can only be solved by a super computer, determines the amount of Bitcoins available to the world to use as currency. Simply, with Bitcoins consumers remain anonymous.
Law Enforcement: On The Job
The DEA know all about Silk Road. As soon as the story about the site's existence broke in 2011, government officials committed to shutting the site down.
Flash forward to 2013. The site is still operating. Until law enforcement can determine how to breach site security (which is amazingly hard to do), the true identity of the site's owner cannot be discovered.
Authorities have learned that the name of the site's owner is “Dread Pirate Roberts,” but that's a tough trail to track down.