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Silk Road 2 Launched Month After Original Takedown

Silk Road 2 had been expected. A new Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) appeared on Twitter and left cryptic clues on its expected launch. The name comes from a character in The Princess Bride – it isn't a single person but a series of personas.

It was thought the launch of Silk Road 2 would be at 4:20 pm, 5 November. '420' is important in cannabis culture, and April 20th is known as 'weed day'. 5 November, the anniversary of Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up Parliament, is symbolic for the Anonymous movement. In the event, however, this timing was missed and Silk Road 2 was launched the following day, 6 November.

The new site is closely modeled on the original, with a few amendments. The login page is a parody of a typical law enforcement domain seizure notice; and users can chose to authenticate with a PGP encryption key. 

Despite the original site's takedown, the community tried to stay together via the Silk Road forums; and indeed it seems as if the new DPR was involved in the original site. "Several well known users of Silk Road who can be seen as pillars of trust are aware of my previous identity so they may conclude for themselves whether or not to trust me," he told Mashable. "These are people both I and the community feel they can trust to make sound judgement on the matter." It all looks like business as usual – but not everyone is convinced.

It's a trap, says Admiral Ackbar. "i can't say i blame anyone who distrusts the new silk road site, considering what happened to sellers on the original. it's hard to imagine the authorities turning down the opportunity to capitalize on the brand to nab a bunch more people."

He is not alone in such thoughts."Many security researchers are speculating that the re-launch might have happened with tacit agreement of the FBI," suggests Dwayne Melancon, CTO at Tripwire, "either to do build up to another profitable seizure of Bitcoins, or to function as a ‘honeypot’ to attract and later prosecute drug dealers and buyers.”

The bitcoin issue is puzzling. Purchases from Silk Road are made with bitcoins. Following Ross Ulbricht's arrest, the prosecution alleged that the original site had earned 614,304 bitcoins (nearly $80 million) in commission – but the Silk Road fortune is not accounted for. 

“The re-emergence of the Silk Road raises a few red flags for me," says Melancon. When the initial ‘take down’ of Silk Road occurred, the FBI was named as the instigator. However, the Department of Justice which includes the FBI initially denied their involvement. Later, the FBI changed their tune to take credit for the operation. Meanwhile, millions of dollars in Bitcoins was seized by the FBI but about three to four time that amount have ‘gone missing’ and can’t be accounted for."

He goes further. "There is a lot of back-channel speculation that the take down of Silk Road was a ploy to steal millions in Bitcoins, and that the 25% seized by the FBI may have been given up to cover the embezzlement of the other 75% of the funds." Why, he wonders, "would the FBI  allowed the launch of ‘Silk Road 2.0’ in plain sight, especially after the arrest of so many Silk Road participants?"

But it's early days. "Although the new Silk Road site is not open for orders just yet," explained Craig Young, a security researcher at Tripwire, yesterday, "the marketplace already contains 486 drug listings, 18 listings for forged documents, and a surprising number of apparel items.  One user is even offering high school or college level essay writing services for ?0.55738875 which converts to approximately $150 USD."

Time will tell whether this is the rebirth of the dark web's most successful illicit marketplace, or just another law enforcement honeypot.

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