Let’s reach into the "deep web" for a moment. That’s where the hidden site called Silk Road provided a booming market for drugs, hackers, hitmen -- you name it. With Silk Road's alleged mastermind getting a bail hearing today, the case could shed some light on illicit marketplaces and the tools used to operate them.
Silk Road was all about anonymity. It relied on the virtual currency Bitcoin, which can be exchanged but isn’t regulated. It also relied on the software of Tor, which bounces internet traffic through a worldwide network of volunteers.
Cameron Camp, a security researcher at ESET, says using Tor makes it appear "that you may come from one part of the globe one minute, and then two minutes later you might come from another part of the globe. Making it very difficult to track who you really are.”
And making it easier to commit crimes.
But the technology itself is neutral, says Karen Reilly, development director with the Tor Project, the nonprofit that oversees Tor’s technology and volunteer network. She says online anonymity helps journalists protect sources and can help you protect medical privacy.
“If you’re in law enforcement, you probably don’t want to be tracked by the criminals you’re going after,” she says, “because that could be a threat to you or people you’re affiliated with.”
Reilly says if Tor disappeared tomorrow, criminals would still have plenty of online tools that law abiding citizens don’t.