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Silk Road drug sales going strong after 'Dread Pirate Roberts' arrest

The illicit underground marketplace has bounced back from last year’s high-profile shutdown, according to an Internet safety report.

The Silk Road 2.0 log-in page takes a jab at law enforcement by copying the Web site seizure notice used by the FBI. All Things Vice

The Silk Road has stabilized, brushing off any repercussions from last year's arrest of its alleged leader "Dread Pirate Roberts," an Internet safety watchdog has found.

The virtual underground marketplace, made famous by a high-profile takedown in San Francisco last year, has maintained its place as the largest and best-known online black market for illegal drugs, according to a Digital Citizens report released Wednesday.

"What we see on Silk Road today is more drugs, increasing vendors, and an even greater commitment by this community to keeping their 'movement' alive," Digital Citizens' Senior Fellow Garth Bruen said in a press release. Silk Road 2.0, the new version of the site, had 13,648 drug listings as of April 2, just slightly more than the 13,000 present before the arrest.

Last fall, federal law enforcement seized the Silk Road domain and arrested Ross Ulbricht, who allegedly ran the site under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts. The Silk Road allowed anonymous buyers using the secure Tor browser to purchase and sell drugs with Bitcoin. Ulbricht's arrest led to the arrests of eight other people who allegedly were also the Silk Road's main operators. Following the shutdown, a new ringleader, also using the name Dread Pirate Roberts, launched Silk Road 2.0.

Digital Citizens researchers spent 10 months researching illegal online marketplaces, including the Silk Road, by tracking listings and discussion boards. The research began before Ulbricht's arrest, so the organization said it's been able to illustrate the Silk Road's progress over time.

Before Silk Road 2.0 launched, other smaller marketplaces benefited. One competitor, Black Market Reloaded, saw its listings go up 70 percent. The report said Silk Road 2.0's arrival has pushed aside these competitors, with the online black market economy experiencing "a complete somersault in the six months since the fall of the original Silk Road."

"In chat rooms used by both operators and customers, many believe that the fallout from Ulbricht's arrest is complete," the report reads. "Some, who claim to be informed insiders, speculate that Ulbricht has surrendered as much information as he has to offer. These same individuals believe Ulbricht's information led to three high-profile arrests earlier this year."

The researchers said Silk Road 2.0 is successful because it's designed to look and operate like the original Silk Road, has better security, and features previous and well-known vendors. Additionally, the new marketplace's operators have generated goodwill with its response to a Bitcoin hack in February. Hackers stole thousands of bitcoins from users, but the operators have vowed to pay users back.

"This 'customer refund' helped reaffirm that Silk Road is not like the scam markets that failed customers while Silk Road was down," reads the report.