Tagdarknets

Silk Road Round-Up

Black Market Reloaded screenshot

The biggest story of the week biggest tech story of the week (obviously the shutdown is the biggest general interest story of the week) is that the Feds (claim to have) busted Silk Road, the anonymous, Bitcoin driven marketplace for illegal drugs and other wares. Here are some of the most interesting follow-up stories I read this week:

FBI agent Christopher Tarbell busted both LulzSec’s Sabu and Silk Road.

But the guy they arrested claims he’s innocent

One of my favorite takes on Silk Road and its significance, particularly with regards to making the drug trade less violent.

But for better or worse, there are other competitors to Silk Road.

That’s because the Feds busted Silk Road, not Tor.

More about Ross Ulbricht, the man allegedly behind Silk Road.

Feds Raid Silk Road

ulbricht_linkedin-660x278

Kim Zetter reports for Wired:

The FBI has arrested the San Francisco man they say ran Silk Road, the notorious underground digital bazaar that allowed traffickers to anonymously peddle heroin, cocaine and nearly anything else illegal.

Ross William Ulbricht, 29, who allegedly operated the site as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. [...]

Hundreds of illicit drugs were available for anyone to purchase on Silk road, from Afghani hash to LSD and ecstasy, though the terms of service did provide some limitations – they prohibited the sale of weapons of mass destruction, the solicitation of murder, or the sale of stolen bank card data or anything else whose purpose was to harm or defraud.

Ulbricht allegedly violated his own rule, however, when earlier this year he allegedly solicited a murder-for-hire of another Silk Road member who was threatening to release the identities of thousands of users of the site, according to the criminal complaint unsealed this morning. Ulbricht hasn’t been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, however.

Full Story: Wired: Feds Arrest Alleged ‘Dread Pirate Roberts,’ the Brain Behind the Silk Road Drug Site

Previously: A Bitcoin-based E-Bay for Illegal Drugs

Is Child Porn On Darknets Actually A Sign Of A Healthy Society?

I just covered Cryptosphere, a forthcoming darknet, for TechCrunch. Here’s a bit from the end. On the Hacker News thread about Cryptosphere, one commenter laments the fact that darknets end up being used for child porn, pointing out that religious heretics of the past could really have used such a system. Another commenter responds:

Child pornography producers and consumers are similarly persecuted, though clearly with much more sound reasons.

At least in western countries, there aren’t a lot of instances of repressed communication that need to be conducted across a channel like this — especially few legitimate ones. This is not to say that such a system isn’t useful; just that I believe the fact they’re so full of child pornography and the like is actually, in a roundabout way, an indicator of a healthy society.

Dead Drops: Anonymous, Offline, Peer-to-Peer File-Sharing Network in Public Space

dead drops

‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs accessable to anybody in public space. Everyone is invited to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data. Each dead drop is installed empty except a readme.txt file explaining the project. ‘Dead Drops’ is open to participation. If you want to install a dead drop in your city/neighborhood follow the ‘how to’ instructions and submit the location and pictures.

Dead Drops

(via Theremina)

If only there was some way to keep these from filling up with malware, porn and spam.

Trevor Blake wrote here a few years ago:

Now is a good time to establish lines of electronic communication that are not entirely (if at all) reliant on the Internet as it currently exists. Hand delivery of a stack of media is still one of my favorites. At a certain point it the best bit-per-second value known, it has certain privacy features that can’t be beat and it requires very little technical know-how or fancy equipment or money. For all the gnostic freakout of The Matrix, the scene where a disreputable character knocks on Mr. Anderson’s door and passes him a data disc might be the most prophetic.

Learning about cryptography, fidonet and the postal system won’t do anyone any harm. Nothing beats trusted person-to-person connections established in many only-partially overlapping social / professional circles.

See also: sneaker net.

How Osama bin Laden Used E-Mail Without An Internet Connection

According to the Associated Press’ sources, Osama bin Laden routinely typed e-mails on an Internet-less computer in his compound, saved them to a USB thumbdrive and had a courier e-mail them from cybercafes in nearby towns. Apparently this went on for years, undetected. According to the AP, Navy SEALS found about 100 flash drives that apparently contain series of these e-mail communications.

This is what’s referred to as a sneakernet, and as Internet crackdowns occur all over the world, it may become an increasingly popular way for people to communication.

A couple years ago, in these very pages, Trevor Blake wrote:

Now is a good time to establish lines of electronic communication that are not entirely (if at all) reliant on the Internet as it currently exists. Hand delivery of a stack of media is still one of my favorites. At a certain point it the best bit-per-second value known, it has certain privacy features that can’t be beat and it requires very little technical know-how or fancy equipment or money. For all the gnostic freakout of The Matrix, the scene where a disreputable character knocks on Mr. Anderson’s door and passes him a data disc might be the most prophetic.

Learning about cryptography, fidonet and the postal system won’t do anyone any harm. Nothing beats trusted person-to-person connections established in many only-partially overlapping social / professional circles.

Decentralizing Twitter – And the Rest of the Web, Too

CouchDB

I just interviewed J Chris Anderson, the CFO of CouchOne, for ReadWriteWeb. CouchOne is the corporate sponsor of an open source database and programming language called CouchDB. Anderson recently started hosting a demo/proof of concept app called Twebz – a decentralized Twitter Client – built with CouchDB and node.js. Anderson explains how CouchDB could be used to decentralize not only Twitter, but most other web applications as well. It’s pretty geeky but could have big ramifications: This tech could help build a more resilient Internet in the face of disasters, cyberwarfare and censorship.

The aim is to allow you to interact with Twitter when Twitter is up and you are online. But if Twitter is down for maintenance or you are in the middle of nowhere, you can still tweet. And when you can reach Twitter again, it will go through.

If lots of folks are using it, then they can see each other’s tweets come in even when Twitter is down.

Mostly the goal was to show the way on how to integrate CouchDB with web services and APIs.

So if you did release this, and people started using it, and then one day Twitter decided “We’re done. We’re going to go raise pigs in the Ozarks,” Twebz would actually still be up and running fine basically forever and everyone could keep reading each other’s Tweets.

Yep. And as a side effect you have a complete personal Twitter archive of the folks you follow.

There’s even a feature to pull in the complete history of a user, so you can get the back fill of your closest friends if you want. [...]

Could CouchDB and Node be used in conjunction to create some sort of decentralized darknet? Something along the lines of Freenet?

Node is a good fit for CouchDB because Couch encourages asynchronous background processes, but people also use Ruby / Python / Java for the same purposes. But yes, eventually the plan is that CouchDB will make web applications a lot more robust because they will no longer depend on a centralized point of failure. E.g., even if Twitter goes out of business, people can continue to share messages.

The turnover of Web 2.0 startups is so fast that I think users get discouraged from signing up for services. Why bother with a new photo share if there’s a chance it won’t be around in a year? But when those are CouchApps, users can continue to use them even if no one is maintaining them, which makes it more rational to invest time in using them. Imagine if Pownce or Dodgeball were still being run by fans.

ReadWriteHack: CouchOne’s J Chris Anderson On Decentralizing Twitter – And the Rest Of the Web

I asked him about “darknets” but what this really seems useful for is mesh networks.

For another example of how CouchDB is useful in low-connectivity settings, check out this case study on how Better Health Outcomes through Mentoring and Assessments is using CouchDB in rural Zambia.

For another example of a decentralized social network built on CouchDB, check out CouchAppspora, a port of Diaspora to CouchDB.

Update: Trevor reminds me that I should mention FidoNet for some historical context. PODSnet (Pagan Occult Distribution System Network) may be of particular interest to Technoccult readers.

Must read Glenn Greenwald on CIA propaganda efforts overseas and Wikileaks

Apathy Might Not Be Enough

The Report also cites the “fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan” and worries that — particularly if the “bloody summer in Afghanistan” that many predict takes place — what happened to the Dutch will spread as a result of the “fragility of European support” for the war. As the truly creepy Report title puts it, the CIA’s concern is: “Why Counting on Apathy May Not Be Enough” [...]

The Report seeks to provide a back-up plan for “counting on apathy,” and provides ways that the U.S. Government can manipulate public opinion in these foreign countries. It explains that French sympathy for Afghan refugees means that exploiting Afghan women as pro-war messengers would be effective, while Germans would be more vulnerable to a fear-mongering campaign (failure in Afghanistan means the Terrorists will get you). The Report highlights the unique ability of Barack Obama to sell war to European populations. [...]

It’s both interesting and revealing that the CIA sees Obama as a valuable asset in putting a pretty face on our wars in the eyes of foreign populations. It is odious — though, of course, completely unsurprising — that the CIA plots ways to manipulate public opinion in foreign countries in order to sustain support for our wars. [...]

All of this has made WikiLeaks an increasingly hated target of numerous government and economic elites around the world, including the U.S. Government. As The New York Times put it last week: “To the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States, the Pentagon has added WikiLeaks.org, a tiny online source of information and documents that governments and corporations around the world would prefer to keep secret.” In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center prepared a secret report — obtained and posted by WikiLeaks — devoted to this website and detailing, in a section entitled “Is it Free Speech or Illegal Speech?”, ways it would seek to destroy the organization. It discusses the possibility that, for some governments, not merely contributing to WikiLeaks, but “even accessing the website itself is a crime,” and outlines its proposal for WikiLeaks’ destruction as follows:

Pentagon

Glenn Greenwald: The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters

One idea someone on Slashdot came up with is using Freenet to submit stories to Wikileaks, which could be then be mirrored on the regular web, helping insure the security and anonymity of contributors and assuring the availability of the information.

See also:

Freenet, darknets, and the “deep web”

Little Brother

Open-source technologies to intelligently inhabit the oceans

Nomadic Ecosystem

Open Sailing is… well, just look at a list of their projects and check out their site:

- Instinctive_Architecture : an architecture that behaves like a super-organism, reacting to the weather conditions and other variables, reconfiguring itself.
– Energy_Animal : an independent module that generates energy from the waves, wind and sun, providing continuously off-grid energy and being a node for environment and data mesh networking.
– Nomadic_Ecosystem : engineering a mobile aquaculture to sustain human long term life at sea.
– Openet.org : forum to formulate a global standard for a purely civilian internet, an internet moderated by its users, not by the governments nor the industries nor the militaries.
– Life_Cable : a simpler unified standard for energy, water, waste, information in a complex built structure.
– Swarm_Operating_System : a customizable decision assisting software, using real-time data about global threats or personal interests.
– Ocean_Cookbook : making the experience at sea not of a survival quality but a truly yummy experience.
– Open_Politics : think tank about a possible internal organization for a new oceanic urban structure.

Open Sailing

(Thanks Nova)

A 50-Watt Cellular Network

solar powered cell tower

An Indian telecom company is deploying simple cell phone base stations that need as little as 50 watts of solar-provided power. It will soon announce plans to sell the equipment in Africa, expanding cell phone access to new ranks of rural villagers who live far from electricity supplies.

Technology Review: A 50-Watt Cellular Network

(via Edge of Tomorrow)

Who’s going to start settings these sorts of things up in American cities to power decentralized wireless networks?

Freenet, darknets, and the “deep web”

Installing the software takes barely a couple of minutes and requires minimal computer skills. You find the Freenet website, read a few terse instructions, and answer a few questions (“How much security do you need?” … “NORMAL: I live in a relatively free country” or “MAXIMUM: I intend to access information that could get me arrested, imprisoned, or worse”). Then you enter a previously hidden online world. In utilitarian type and bald capsule descriptions, an official Freenet index lists the hundreds of “freesites” available: “Iran News”, “Horny Kate”, “The Terrorist’s Handbook: A practical guide to explosives and other things of interests to terrorists”, “How To Spot A Pedophile [sic]“, “Freenet Warez Portal: The source for pirate copies of books, games, movies, music, software, TV series and more”, “Arson Around With Auntie: A how-to guide on arson attacks for animal rights activists”. There is material written in Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Italian. There is English-language material from America and Thailand, from Argentina and Japan. There are disconcerting blogs (“Welcome to my first Freenet site. I’m not here because of kiddie porn … [but] I might post some images of naked women”) and legally dubious political revelations. There is all the teeming life of the everyday internet, but rendered a little stranger and more intense. One of the Freenet bloggers sums up the difference: “If you’re reading this now, then you’re on the darkweb.”

Guardian: The dark side of the internet

(via Atom Jack)

I haven’t looked at Freenet in years, but it’s certain relevant to the discussion here about darknets.

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