A warm All Things Crime Blog welcome to our newest contributor, crime writer Darcia Helle.

by Darcia Helle

Some people believe in a hidden dimension where spirits coexist and sometimes interact with us. That might or might not be true, but there absolutely is a hidden dimension in cyberspace. Alternatively called the deep web, the darknet, and the underground Internet, this is both a haven and a playground for those with criminal intent.

darr5As with many criminal enterprises, this one began with our own US government. In the mid-1990s, the government was looking for a way to keep their online information exchanges and presence hidden. With that goal in mind, the US Naval Research Lab used federal funding to develop TOR (The Onion Router). The first version of this free software was launched in 2002, and is now available for anyone to download. TOR provides complete, untraceable anonymity to its users.

Initially, TOR offered a sense of safety and privacy for people looking to connect with private support groups. It gave rape victims and battered women a means of communicating without fear of being discovered. This type of support group still exists but, as with all good things, the bad guys found a way to use TOR to their advantage. Pedophiles are able to hang out together, exchange information, stories, photos, and videos, with no fear of getting caught. And that’s just one example of what TOR offers the twisted among us.

darr8The big breakthrough for the deep web came in 2009, with the invention of bitcoins. These things make me think of casino gambling chips for the Internet. Bitcoins are completely anonymous, untraceable digital currency. When you add untraceable money to an untraceable hidden deep web, you open all sorts of doors to madness. In no time, the bad guys found ways to sell their products and their services using TOR and bitcoins. Right now, as you sit reading this, someone else is using TOR to purchase Oxycontin or photos of naked adolescent girls.

darr9Unarguably, the largest illegal site on the deep web was Silk Road Marketplace. Its founder, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, was arrested in October of last year and the site was shut down. In its short, 2 ½ year existence, Silk Road Marketplace earned an astounding $1.2 billion in revenue. Called the anonymous Amazon and the eBay of Vice, Silk Road Marketplace offered something for everyone. You could purchase stolen prescription pads, college term papers, pretty much any drug of interest to users, fake IDs, fake passports, and even murder-for-hire. Hired killers from at least ten different countries had posted listings on Silk Road.

darr3Ross Ulbricht was arrested on charges which included narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, and money laundering. But what tripped him up was his desire to get rid of everyone in his way. He is accused of spending $730,000 on hitmen he’d hired to eliminate six people he considered a threat.

darrrUlbright has, of course, pleaded not guilty to all charges.  There are claims that he might now be cooperating with prosecutors, striking some sort of deal giving him much less jail time in exchange for coughing up a few names. Regardless of Ulbright’s fate, Silk Road Marketplace, once the largest criminal enterprise on the deep web, no longer exists as a black market shopping mall.

darr6A recent study by Addictions journal found that nearly 20 per cent of the drug users in the United States purchased their supplies from Silk Road Marketplace. And that’s only within the US. Silk Road offered items and services worldwide, so that number could be much larger elsewhere. And presumably, a good percentage of killers found their clients on Silk Road.  Maybe now there will be less ecstasy at rave parties and more assassins collecting unemployment.

Sadly, while Silk Road might have been the biggest illegal marketplace, it wasn’t the only one. There are others just like it thriving in a shadowy world most of us will never see. With Silk Road gone, the deep web has a big hole to fill. Nature abhors a vacuum. So do criminals. Someday soon, if not already, that space will be filled by something equally abhorrent.


DarciaDarcia Helle lives in a fictional world with a husband who is sometimes real. Their house is ruled by spoiled dogs and cats and the occasional dust bunny.

Suspense, random blood splatter and mismatched socks consume Darcia’s days. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative. Only then are the voices free to haunt someone else’s mind.

Join Darcia in her fictional world: www.QuietFuryBooks.com

The characters await you.


19 Responses to Cyberspace, Darknet, Murder-for-Hire and the Invisible Black Machine

  1. Lise LaSalle says:

    Wow! We had the Dark Ages following the fall of Rome but what would we call this era? The underground Dark Cyberspace Age?

    I must admit that I knew nothing about all this. I am shocked but also mesmerized by the possibility of this underground universe.

    Orwell envisioned a no secrecy world but damn, you find a parallel world in cyberspace and you are in business.

    Thank you for this fantastic piece.

    • Darcia Helle says:

      Lise, it is fascinating in a creepy way. So far I’ve resisted the urge to download the Tor software and explore for myself. I’d probably be there doing research and be the only one who gets caught and arrested.

      • PatrickHMoore says:

        It certainly is fascinating. How many millions of people are on it right now? How many are into child pornography? How many don’t know what they are into and are simply seeking to get lost in the “black hole” of cyberspace?

        • Darcia Helle says:

          All scary things to consider. I also wonder how many people are now encouraged to act out fantasies they otherwise would have been too afraid to try. Even if the cops are watching, these people on the darknet are almost impossible to trace.

          • PatrickHMoore says:

            This is useful information. Now when I decide to enter the crime life I’ll know just how to do it. :-)

  2. […] of my articles have been posted so far. The first is titled Cyberspace, Darknet, Murder-for-Hire and the Invisible Black Machine. With this article, I’m exploring a cyberspace most of us never see. I first read about the […]

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