Despite the indictment and arrest last week of Ulbricht, who allegedly operated Silk Road, it’s not clear that federal officials have figured out how to break TOR’s encryption methods.
“What the FBI did was break the human because they know they can’t get around TOR at all,” said Andrew Lewman, executive director of the TOR Project, a non-profit collective of computer specialists that assist TOR users. “They caught him using his real name on various forums.”
Lewman says that there are dozens of other similar sites like The Silk Road that specialize in contraband narcotics or weapons. “Now with Silk Road gone, any one of those can start moving,” Lewman said. That could make it difficult to find the next one.
“Law enforcement is engaged in an ongoing game of whack-a-mole against these sites,” Budd said. “It will be interesting to watch if the takedown of Silk Road will result in increase in prices. Like any thing else in the free market they will respond and probably are going to price in the cost of that additional risk.”
Budd said there’s another way for criminals, spies or just privacy fans to keep communications and commerce secret besides using TOR. A person could reconfigure a computer to access the dark web sites via alternative top-level domains and reach a kind of “shadow internet” that isn’t typically visible.
Budd likened it to an old-time speakeasy where customers in search of a drink need to know where they are and the secret password to get inside.
“It would be great if these sites would go away, but given the nature of the internet it’s not going to happen anytime soon,” Budd said. “They are related to the openness of the Internet and the only way to get rid of things is to create a version of the internet was so controlled and locked down that most people in this country would find that unacceptable.”