Dropgangs, or the future of darknet markets

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The Internet is full of commercial activity and it should come at no surprise that even illegal commercial activity is widespread as well. In this article we would like to describe the current developments – from where we came, where we are now, and where it might be going – when it comes to technologies used for digital black market activity.

The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means – he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

The use of dead drops also significantly reduces the risk of the merchant to be discovered by tracking within the postal system. He does not have to visit any easily to surveil post office or letter box, instead the whole public space becomes his hiding territory.

From when I first learned about the existence of The Silk Road and its successors – places on the dark web where it’s possible to pseudo-anonymously make illicit purchases of e.g. drugs, weapons, fake ID and the like in exchange for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – it always seemed to me that the weak point was that the “buyer” had to provide their postal address to the “seller”. While there have, as this article describes, been a number of arrested made following postal inspections (especially as packages cross administrative boundaries), the bigger risk I’d assume that this poses to the buyer is that they must trust the seller (who is, naturally, a bigger and more-interesting target) to appropriately secure and securely-destroy that address information. In the event of a raid on a seller – or, indeed, law enforcement posing as a seller in a sting operation – the buyer is at significant risk.

That risk may not be huge for Johnny Pothead who wants to buy an ounce of weed, but it rapidly scales up for “middleman” distributors who buy drugs in bulk, repackage, and resell either on darknet markets or via conventional channels: these are obvious targets for law enforcement because their arrest disrupts the distribution chain and convictions are usually relatively easy (“intent to supply” can be demonstrated in many jurisdictions by the volume of the product in which they’re found to be in possession). A solution to this problem, for drug markets at least, with the fringe benefit of potentially faster-deliveries is pre-established dead drops (the downside, of course, is a more-limited geographical coverage and the risk of discovery by a non-purchaser, but the latter of these can at least be mitigated), and it’s unsurprising to hear that this is the direction in which the ecosystem is moving. And once you, Jenny Drugdealer, are putting that kind of infrastructure in place anyway, you might as well extend it to your regular clients too. So yeah: not surprising to see things moving in this direction.

I recall that some years ago, a friend whom I’m introduced to geocaching accidentally ran across a dead drop (or a stash) while hunting for a ‘cache that was hidden in the same general area. The stash was of clearly-stolen credit cards, and of course she turned it in to the police, but I think it’s interesting that these imaginative digital-era drug dealers, in trying to improve upon a technique popularised by Cold War era spies by adding the capacity for long-time concealment of dead drops, are effectively re-inventing what the geocaching community has been doing for ages.

What will they think of next? I’m betting drones.

Dan Q posted a note for GC54KVD Oxford Medical History #2: Grey matter

This checkin to GC54KVD Oxford Medical History #2: Grey matter reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Came past here the other day while some work was being done on the island. The entire area around the GZ has been torn-up and it seems likely that the cache has been muggled and that the area might no-longer be suitable for a cache. :-(

Map of 51.756067,-1.247417

Dan Q posted a note for GC5J655 GO Active Cutteslowe and Sunnymead Park

This checkin to GC5J655 GO Active Cutteslowe and Sunnymead Park reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

  1. CO hasn’t logged in in almost 3 years.
  2. Long string of DNFs.
  3. No finds in 8 months.
  4. During that time I’ve repeatedly tried to contact CO both through this site and through Go Active Oxfordshire (to report this as probably-missing and to volunteer to help with its future maintenance if they want to bring it back to life), but never received a response.

I strongly suspect that this cache is abandoned by the organisation that set it up. I’m reaching out to them today, one last time, but if they don’t respond then I suggest that this be considered for archiving by an administrator.

Map of 51.789567,-1.258683

Dan Q note OK045C The Fairy Elevator

This checkin to OK045C The Fairy Elevator reflects an opencache.uk log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Dropped by to perform routine maintenance to discover that this cache has been partially muggled: the lifting mechanism has been cut and the pencils have been removed. However the cache itself is otherwise functional. As a stop-gap the cache is temporarily hidden BEHIND the tree (rather the hoisted up it); I’ll look into a proper fix as soon as I’m able.

Map of 51.822866666667,-1.3013666666667

Dan Q performed maintenance for GC7R0HB The Fairy Elevator

This checkin to GC7R0HB The Fairy Elevator reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Dropped by to perform routine maintenance to discover that this cache has been partially muggled: the lifting mechanism has been cut and the pencils have been removed. However the cache itself is otherwise functional. As a stop-gap the cache is temporarily hidden BEHIND the tree (rather the hoisted up it); I’ll look into a proper fix as soon as I’m able.

Map of 51.822867,-1.301367

Ending on a High

For the final week of his 52 Reflect series and as a way to see off the year, Robin and I spent the last weekend of the year near Fort William to facilitate a quick ascent of Ben Nevis. My previous expedition to Britain’s highest point was an excuse for some ice climbing but I hadn’t actually come up the “path” route since an aborted expedition in 2009.

Dan and Robin atop Ben Nevis
Probably should have wiped the snow off the lens.

Somehow in the intervening years I’ve gotten way out of practice and even more out of shape because our expedition was hard. Partly that was our fault for choosing to climb on one of the shortest days of the year, requiring that we maintain a better-than-par pace throughout to allow us to get up and down before the sun set (which we actually managed with further time in-hand), but mostly it’s the fact that I’ve neglected my climbing: just about the only routine exercise I get these days is cycling, and with changes in my work/life balance I’m now only doing that for about 40 miles in a typical week.

Robin with the GCG6XD, the Ben Nevis summit geocache
My ongoing efforts to get Robin into geocaching continue to succeed: ice somewhat hampered us in our search for the cache nearest the summit but we got there in the end.

For the longest time my primary mountaineering-buddy was my dad, who was – prior to his death during a hillwalking accident – a bigger climber and hiker than I’ll ever be. Indeed, I’ve been “pushed on” by trying to keep up with my father enough times that fighting to keep up with Robin at the weekend was second nature. If I want to get back to the point where I’m fit enough for ice climbing again I probably need to start by finding the excuse for getting up a hill once in a while more-often than I do, first, too. Perhaps I can lay some of the blame for my being out of practice in the flat, gentle plains of Oxfordshire?

Dan ascending Ben Nevis
I’d have loved to have gotten a shot of me actually managing to get some use out of my crampons, but by that point visibility wasn’t great and we were rather cold and wet to be stopping in a wind to take photographs. So this rocky stretch will have to do.

In any case, it was a worthwhile and enjoyable treat to be able to be part of Robin’s final reflection as well as to end the year somewhat-literally “on a high” by seeing off 2018 in the Scottish Highlands. If you’ve not read his blog about his adventures of the last 52 weekends, you should: whether taking a Boris Bike from Brixton to Brighton (within the rental window) or hitching a ride on an aeroplane, he’s provided a year’s worth of fantastic stories accompanied by some great photography.

And now: time for 2019.

Dan Q found OK0231 St Giles Webcam Cache, Oxford

This checkin to OK0231 St Giles Webcam Cache, Oxford reflects an opencache.uk log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Wandered out of my office and around the corner to this cache, which has long been on my to-do list, this afternoon. Waved at the new camera!

Note to future visitors: looks like the “lag time” is about 45 seconds, so you’re likely to have to stand around a bit. I’ve attached a picture showing the window where the camera now sits so you can position yourself appropriately. Good luck!

Map of 51.7553,-1.2594

Dan Q performed maintenance for GC7QG1Z Oxford’s Wild Wolf Three

This checkin to GC7QG1Z Oxford’s Wild Wolf Three reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

At community suggestion, replaced containers at waypoints #1 and #2 with smaller, more-discreet variants to help reduce risk of future muggling. A geocacher still shouldn’t struggle to find these containers, though: they’re pretty obvious once you’re looking in the right place!

Map of 51.81705,-1.274233

Dan Q posted a note for GC7QG1Z Oxford’s Wild Wolf Three

This checkin to GC7QG1Z Oxford’s Wild Wolf Three reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Visited GZ as part of maintenance; all well here, although the “obvious” path to the cache continues to become increasingly overgrown – a fallen tree in the way almost but not quite justifies putting the terrain rating up half a point.

Two bicycles seem to have been abandoned near the GZ. One belongs to hire scheme Ofo and has been reported to them. Making a note here so that if one or both are seen to still be there in the New Year they can be reported as having been “abandoned for several weeks” as per council recommendations: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20060/street_cleaning/168/report_an_abandoned_bicycle

Cache container and contents remain in perfect condition. Go find it!

Map of 51.81705,-1.274233