5 Scary Things Anyone Can Buy In The Darknet's Illegal Markets

Scratching the surface of the internet's underground.

In the wake of Edward's Snowden's revelations about American (and British) intelligence agencies allegedly spying on their civilian populations, internet privacy has become a public topic of debate. Amidst the ongoing discussions are questions about what many consider to be the ultimate in web-browsing anonymity: The Onion Router, or TOR as it is known, and its relationship to online anonymity.

But the discussion isn't just about privacy.The fact of the matter is, the TOR browser allows access to websites that cannot be seen on the clearweb, or regular internet. These are the websites that deal with illegal things, from hacker services and stolen credit cards to drugs, guns, and murder for hire. And it was one of these websites that 19 year-old Jesse William Korff of Labelle, Florida, was using to sell the extremely potent poisons ricin and abrin. Korff, who plead guilty to 16 felony counts including conspiracy to murder a person in a foreign country, smuggling, and developing toxins, faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced in November.

Among these sites was the infamous Silk Road market. Taken down by the FBI in late 2013, Silk Road was the largest illegal drug market on the internet, hidden from the public eye and accessible only through Tor. An estimated 150 million dollars in Bitcoin was seized and Ross William Ulbricht, a Penn state graduate student alleged to be the mastermind behind the site, was arrested and charged with multiple felony counts of drug trafficking, money laundering, and computer hacking.

But crime, whether online or otherwise, isn't limited to a finite number of offenders. Removing one market just clears the way for another to take its place. Silk Road was just replaced by other websites.

Darknet seizure notification

People wonder what these websites look like. Well, you're about to find out. We took a walk through the dark alleys of the internet just to see what it looks like, sticking to marketplace sites.

Note: We do not advise exploring the darknet or attempting to visit these sites yourself as they may leave you open to cyber-attack. We're also not going to tell you how to locate them. We've also removed the names of sellers and websites.

Drugs

There are a lot of drugs on the Darknet. These range from cigarettes to cocaine, heroin, designer drugs, steroids, and all manner of other mind-altering substances. The sellers often offer free samples and at least one seller posted laboratory assays of his cocaine, indicating it to be 99 % pure.

Among those include....

Opium

This was quite the exotic little drug in the 19th and early 20th century and it made a comeback in elite American circles a few years ago. Along with opium, you can buy all varieties of morphine-based painkillers on the Darknet. There was a poppy tea problem generated by internet sales, but the supply of poppy pods (Papaver somniferum is the source of opium: the pods, ostensibly sold for flower arrangements, were being ground up and steeped into narcotic tea) seems to have dried up.

Heroin

A surprising amount of heroin is available. This (above) is heroin reputed to be from Afghanistan. I don't know what, if any, reputation Aghanistan heroin has, but at one point opium (from which heroin is derived) production in Afghanistan was quite massive. It seems that may still be the case.

One seller offered a warning on the Mexican black tar heroin (not shown) being sold: "WATCH IT, PLEASE!!!!!!!!! WE DON'T WANT A OVERDOSE ON OUR HANDS WHICH IS REALLY EASY WITH THIS STUFF. WE WANT EVERYONE TO BE HAPPY AND HAVE A GREAT TIME SO START SMALL."

Cocaine

Cocaine and Ecstasy (MDMA or Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) are huge sellers among Darknet dealers.

and MDMA/Ecstasy

Purity is seemingly taken very seriously by consumers and sellers. Some sellers provide lab documentation that attests to the purity of their product, but without any oversight, buyers are left relying on a source's word for it or, more likely, feedback from other buyers.

Just like legitimate businesses, Darknet sites allow for feedback from buyers and dispute resolution. Buyer feedback is an important part of this market: word of mouth travels quickly and scam artists don't stay in business very long.

Counterfeits and Forged Documents

This is a lot scarier than drugs. Fake ID isn't about kids wanting to buy beer: it's about the kind of access that forged documents allow. There's no watchlist that can stand up to a fake name, though recent advances in biometric technology are creating additional layers of security. But what about buying weapons or renting property?

Passports

A passport -- especially one that has apparently been illicitly made by a government worker as the one shown above claims to be -- could allow terrorists access anywhere.

Fake Driver's Licenses

Counterfeit bills from around the world

PayPal, Credit Card, and scores of other pieces of financial information including usernames and passwords>

There are literally thousands of credit card numbers for sale: ready to be used online or stamped onto blank cards. Think Bitcoin is safe? Guess again. Hundreds, perhaps more, of Bitcoin accounts have their information up for grabs. Likewise PayPal. Counterfeit bills -- including American dollars with highly detailed replicas of security details -- are also available, though the quality varies.

Weapons

Knives. Guns. Ammunition. Explosives. Arms are often sold alongside drugs and counterfeit money and documents across the Darknet. One seller was offering unexploded WWI ordnance: 100 year old bombs. Given the incredible instability of explosives degrading over time, I'd say that's nothing you would want to find in your mailbox. Here's some of the other stuff we ran across.

An electromagnetic pulse device

This device is being sold from China. The seller writes that the cigarette pack sized device "may add credits in some electronic vending machines or slot machines." That may be so, but what an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generally does is destroy electronics. Cell phones. Radios. Televisions. Computers. A large enough EMP could wipe out a city's power.

Guns

This is a 9mm pistol manufactured by Sig-Sauer. It is widely regarded as one of the best combat handguns in the world: it's accurate, reliable, rugged, and accepts commonly available ammunition.

Illegal guns

Of course, all guns sold on the Darknet are illegal, but this isn't something you'd find at Mom and Pop's gun store. This appears to be a .22 caliber pen gun. It breaks down into smaller components and fires a single shot. Weapons like this are generally considered to have one use only: assassination.

Explosives and bomb-making components

What you're looking at here are the striker/fuse components from either hand grenades or flash/stun grenades. The seller here says these have a 4 second delay and writes "I suggest you practice with them so you get a feel for what 4 seconds is like before going out and reenacting your favorite war movies. I am not responsible for anything you do with this." Although it doesn't look like these come with a blasting cap assembly, they could be inserted into crude homemade grenades armed with explosives that don't require concussion to go off.

Uranium

A quarter-sized piece of Uranium ore. The pictures in the corner speak volumes as to what someone looking for Uranium on the Darknet might have in mind. It's worth pointing out that you can buy Uranium ore on the clearweb (the regular internet) and given the energy, expertise, and equipment needed to refine Uranium into yellowcake or something weapons-grade, the chances of this being usable in even a dirty bomb are pretty slim.

Do we really need anyone selling Uranium on a site where the marketing context is illegal drugs and weapons?

But is this a Darknet-only problem?

The answer is emphatically no. You can very easily buy -- or attempt to buy -- drugs elsewhere on the internet. This screenshot of an ad for drugs was found on Craigslist, which has long been criticized for its apparent tolerance of prostitution. Scores of online pharmacies based overseas are more than happy to ship prescription drugs -- painkillers, steroids, ED drugs, sedatives -- and they're all accessible via the clearweb. This is nothing new: the internet has had a thriving black market ever since it was started..

Personal freedom must be balanced with national security: of that, there can be no doubt, but the keywords here are "balanced with", not "forfeited for." What authorities need to realize is that privacy is not just a matter of keeping government surveillance out of your life: it's also a matter of keeping hackers, cyber-thieves, and criminals away. In an information-rich environment, anyone with even the slightest technical skill can find anything. Darknet markets and intelligence agencies both exist in seemingly opposite corners of the internet, each watching the other. Those corners may be dark, but they're in a room that is getting brighter and brighter.

Sources: WIRED, ABC News, BBC News, Forbes.