Inside the secret online marketplace for illegal weapons
By Tuan C. Nguyen
With just a few clicks, anyone with an internet connection can obtain some of the deadliest weapons known to man, an investigation by tech blog Gizmodo has revealed.
These include AK-47s, Bushmaster military rifles and even grenades — all of which can be sold, bought, sent and delivered on the Armory, a hidden website that functions as an online black market for illegal firearms. It’s there that Gizmodo writer Sam Biddle, who went undercover as an anonymous buyer, discovered a transaction process that uses an elaborate scheme that involves identity-concealing data encryption, an alternative electronic currency and a delivery method that allows both buyers and sellers to bypass the authorities without raising even the hint of suspicion.
Concerns over the ease of obtaining guns and other lethal weapons has gripped the nation in the aftermath of one of the deadliest massacre’s in recent memory when a heavily-armed lone gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 during a midnight movie screening just outside Denver. Shortly after, a paper trail revealed that the suspect built his arsenal through purchases made via a host of unregulated web sites, the Associated press reports. (Comment: That statement seems to be at odds with the initial reports)
The existence of such portals is alarming in that not only can they arm a single deranged individual with enough ballistics to carry out a massacre, but also supply a group of terrorist rebels with enough artillery to lay siege to embassies and government offices, according to the report.
The Armory is an offshoot of an illegal drug site called The Silk Road, and based on the writer’s first-hand observations, operates quite similarly. To access the store, users must first install a piece of freeware called TOR, short for the The Onion Router. Millions of people worldwide have used the network to engage in all kinds of internet activity, such as visit web sites, send messages and put up online posts — all completely anonymously. The technology, developed through the support of the US Navy, uses a sophisticated multi-layered encryption method to conceal the identity of its users. By encrypting and re-encrypting the data as it is routed and re-routed through several relays, online activity is incredibly difficult to track or trace.
Buyers wanting to make a purchase are required to use Bitcoin, a controversial form of online currency that’s designed to work as a completely decentralized electronic cash system on peer-to-peer networks.
Once payment is received, the weapons are sent using a deviously clever shipping method where instead of delivering the order all in one big crate, and hence tipping off security officials, each weapon is taken apart and sent piece by piece until the buyer has enough parts to assemble the artillery. Though obviously not the most efficient way to buy a gun, the fact that the entire process is replete with fool-proof measures to conceal the identity, whereabouts, motives and actions of everyone involved makes the Armory one of the most effective underground marketplaces around.