Follow The Bitcoins: How We Got Busted Buying Drugs On Silk Road’s Black Market
(Forbes) Bitcoin has become the preferred payment method for much of the online underground, hailed by none other than the administrator of the booming Silk Road black market as the key to making his illicit business possible. But spending bitcoins to anonymously score drugs online isn’t as simple as it’s often made out to be.
We at Forbes should know: We tried, and we got caught.
To be clear, we weren’t caught by law enforcement — so far at least, our experiment last month in ordering small amounts of marijuana from three Bitcoin-based online black markets hasn’t resulted in anyone getting arrested. But a few weeks after those purchases, I asked Sarah Meiklejohn, a Bitcoin-focused computer science researcher at the University of California at San Diego, to put the privacy of our black market transactions to the test by tracing the digital breadcrumbs that Bitcoin leaves behind. The result of her analysis: On Silk Road, and possibly on smaller competitor markets, our online drug buys were visible to practically anyone who took the time to look. “There are ways of using Bitcoin privately,” says Meiklejohn. “But if you’re a casual Bitcoin user, you’re probably not hiding your activity very well.”