Secret conversations from the dark web

Secret conversations from the dark web

AUGUST 4, 201810:31pm

Australian Leader of International Drug Syndicate Arrested in Sydney’s East

Jeremy Cassarnews.com.au

A
A

NSWGreat is a drug dealer. But you won’t find him on the street. He’s making his fortune by selling anonymously, behind a computer screen.

Inspired by people such as Ross William Ulbricht, the now jailed founder of the infamous Silk Road, the dealer has been selling drugs to Australians on the dark web for six years.

He’s one of many dark web drug dealers — or vendors as they call themselves — who are offering product to Australians who believe (incorrectly) that drugs bought online are somehow ‘safer’ than those bought on the street.

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His website looks a lot like a legitimate eCommerce site, where customers can order a vast array of illegal goods to be sent directly to their letterbox, c/o Australia Post.

The difference between NSWGreat and most other dark net vendors is that he’s more willing to talk. And talk he has.

Over a series of conversations through the secure texting service Wickr, NSWGreat revealed that he’s been peddling drugs on the dark net for over six years.

After starting out as a staff member on the now-defunct Silk Road 2.0, NSWGreat noticed a need for skilful dealers and not long after, “graduated” to an individual seller. NSWGreat runs a store on each of the most-frequented marketplaces, and boasts staff members all over the country.

Unashamedly, he admits: “I was quite inspired by Breaking Bad, that an intellect is able to be successful in the drug game.”

NSWGreat and his team of ghosts import substances from overseas for his rotating product line. He’s “smuggled” inordinate amounts illegal drugs, and his users have given him a high rating.

Police regularly seize large amounts of drugs sent via Australia Post. This haul in the Northern Territory recently was worth millions. Picture: NT PoliceSource:Supplied

But while NSWGreat may be basking in his ‘success’ right now, the AFP are confident they will bring him, and other similar drug dealers down one day.

A spokesman from the agency told news.com.au: “If Australians are using the dark web to conceal criminal activity, your anonymity is not guaranteed and you are not outside the reach of law enforcement.”

But that threat isn’t stopping NSWGreat from continuing his operation.

Profit is, of course, his primary motivation.

He claims to live “on a salary similar to that of a CEO with much less work and definitely a lot more enjoyment.”, which beckons the question: why he doesn’t retire while he’s ahead?

It would seem he has no such plans. “ … the lifestyle and thrill of being a drug smuggler is addictive”, he admits.

In addition to the easy cash, he enjoys chewing the fat with customers about their lives, their addictions, and the ramifications of their drug use. He spends hours scouring case studies — researching substances that he then imports, sells, and even consumes.

He justifies the continuation of his business by claiming he’s contributing to society, citing the fact that recreational drug users are a large subculture and part of “the Australian way of life”.

Whichever way NSWGreat chooses to frame his behaviour, there’s no denying that he’s an internationally wanted fugitive.

Through Reddit and email, he’s received subpoenas from overseas bodies such as Department of Homeland Security, Interpol, Europol, FBI, and the Secret Service. While other dark web dealers have been arrested in recent years, NSWGreat is brazen in his belief he won’t be caught.

“I’m confident in my ability to stay anonymous as NSWGreat.”

NSWGreat said he was inspired by Breaking Bad, which depicts an intelligent man transforming into a powerful drug dealer. Picture: Frank Ockenfels/AMCSource:Supplied

Perhaps he remains somewhat cocky due to the authorities’ continuing struggles when tracking both prominent dark net vendors and their customers. This frustration was confirmed by an AFP spokesman who told news.com.au: “The robust encryption technologies used by dark net marketplace vendors and customers present difficulties for law enforcement.”

They confirmed one of their major difficulties was that “cryptocurrencies used on dark net marketplaces operate outside the traditional financial systems and require specialised software and expertise to analyse transactions.” In other words, this is still relatively new and bumpy terrain for the AFP.

This isn’t to say they can’t claim successes. In 2013, they located and arrested Peter Nash, an Australian-based administrator of Silk Road. In 2016, they were a part of a co-ordinated global effort that saw numerous Australian dark net dealers charged, as well as the seizure of drugs including MDMA, steroids, cannabis, opium, cocaine and methylamphetamine.

Since the AFP National Forensic Rapid Lab (NFRL) was established in 2013, over 15,000 packages containing over 2.5 tons of illicit drugs have been taken out of rotation.

When I asked NSWGreat whether he had a message for Australian law enforcement, he quickly separated himself from offline dealers and offers the following advice: “Focus your resources on the methamphetamine epidemic and continue to suppress biker clubs on the street. They are second-class citizens and deserve the wrath of justice.”

Police around Australia are regularly catching dark web operatives like NSWGreat. Earlier this year they arrested a man from Sydney’s eastern suburbs following investigations into an international dark web drug importation ring.Source:Supplied

A common belief held by those on both sides of the virtual checkout is that dark net marketplaces guarantee the user a much higher degree of safety than that of the wider world.

A customer can access detailed feedback from others who’ve tried and tested each product, and most vendors go out of their way to ensure their ratings remain high — even reshipping lost packages or compensating for user dissatisfaction.

Not only that, but users can score their drugs behind the protection of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) eliminating the need to interact with criminals face-to-face.

While the second part might be true, the AFP myth busts the first:

“Analysis highlights that there is minimal differences observed between drugs suspected to be sourced via dark net marketplace and those sourced via more ‘traditional’ means”, the AFP said. “Regardless of where drugs are sourced from, they have the potential to cause serious harm and even death.”

When asked if he’s a good person, NSWGreat says, “Yes”.

“I have morals and I do my best to be honest. I had a good upbringing and in hindsight understand when I’ve made poor decisions,” he said. “Most of my lapses in judgment are drug induced. Sober NSWGreat is generally a good person, but there is always a yin for a yang.”

As for the trajectory his life has taken, NSWGreat wears it proudly. “It has been a once in a lifetime experience. I’ve met a lot of interesting people, distributed millions in product annually to tens of thousands of fellow Australians,” he said.

I have no idea who NSWGreat might be. I don’t know his age, or ethnicity, or whether he’s really a he, or even if he’s more than one person.

From wherever in the country NSWGreat connects to his VPN, he ends the conversation with an celebratory phrase that’s just as concerning to parents and cops as it is comforting to vendors and users: “Long live the dark net.”

Time will only tell for how long.

Jeremy Cassar is a freelance writer.

Dark Web fugitive NSWGreat says he was inspired by Breaking Bad.Source:Supplied

They Were Good Conmen’ – Evolution’s Hype Man On Ex-Employers Who Made Millions From Drug Dealers

Thomas Fox-BrewsterForbes Staff

Security

Making friends on the dark web is inadvisable. Just ask NSWGreat, the PR guy and administrator for Evolution, a drug, weapons and stolen data bazaar that suddenly disappeared this week, with accusations the owners stole millions of dollars worth of dealers money that was held on the site. He (I’m led to believe NSWGreat is male) has been mourning the loss of the site, which was based on the anonymising Tor network and made more than $50 million in the last year, according to estimates drawn together for FORBES. But he doesn’t have much bad to say about the owners, who he still counts as chums.

Speaking over encrypted mail, he says he’s leaving the dark market game, one in which he learned not to trust anyone on such markets the hard way. What’s odd about the whole debacle, however, is that Verto and Kimble, the Evolution operators and the pair who’ve allegedly made off with as much as 130,000 Bitcoins, worth $34.5 million (this figure cannot be proven – other estimates were between $10 million and $12 million in BTC), openly admitted to what they were doing to NSWGreat, he claims. And then there’s this admission: “I am friends with them, despite everything.” In a Reddit post yesterday, which has now been made private, NSWGreat said he had lost as much as $20,000 in Bitcoin as a result; he was also a dealer and consumer of goods on the site.

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NSWGreat’s Evolution page

Why does he think they left and allegedly took off with such vast sums, when they could have stuck around and continued to profit from the site? “It was time for them to leave, get out while they’re ahead. No-one can understand the surreal and terrifying experience that is it is to operate one of these black markets. You are gambling with your life.

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“I trusted them with a lot. We were always open with each other but respected each others anonymity. Great thing about our team, if you ever were to arrest any of us then none of us would be able to flip on each other because we know nothing.

“I guess they were good conmen, I was always told that Evolution wouldn’t last forever. But they never commented on how it’d end.”

As for the total stolen, that remains unclear. NSWGreat says when he last looked at the back end transaction history, there were roughly 130,000 Bitcoins. “They may of withdrawn more, I’m not sure. This was within 24 hours of the market going down.”

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According to Greg Jones, a dark market watcher and security pro from Digital Assurance, it’s almost certain Evolution’s death was the result of an exit scam. “Although it could potentially be some other type of take down, a scam looks more likely but it is not conclusive.”

NSWGreat still had positive words to say about his experience as an Evolution staff member. The backend of the site “worked like clockwork”, with a ticketing system, a white board, a watch list for those who broke site rules and a statistics tracker. Evolution was known for being remarkably slick compared to its forebears Silk Road and its competitors, its biggest being Agora.

The hype man has some fond memories too. “Our first staff meeting was quite surreal, we all had our assigned time but being all around the world we all turn up at the weirdest times. I think it was 10am for me, about 80 per cent of the staff at our meeting were high. I must say one of the best parts about working in the drug industry, the drug policy at the workplace is amazing! You can smoke weed and snort lines of heroin in the middle of a board meeting,” he adds.

Some on Reddit have accused NSWGreat of being a scammer too. His response? “I don’t really care what people think anymore, it ain’t my job to care now.”

d they’re doing it right now.”

Weapon sales on Evolution marketplace, including a taser hidden in a pack of Marlboro Reds

The warning signs had been coming in recent days, with various users complaining about delayed withdrawals of funds from Evo, as users called the site. Not only is the site now down, so is the associated forum. The Hub forum, another site used to discuss dark markets, is also out of action (though it’s frequently up and down). The Shiny-Flakes dealership, which German police claimed to have neutered last week in a major bust, had left an ominous message on their vendor page last week too: “DO NOT BUY HERE. VENDORS RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.”

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One of the site’s founders, Verto, previously ran Tor Carding Forums, where stolen credit card data was shifted around, so it may not come as a surprise to some that Evo might have been a very well-executed scam.

He or she may not have felt it was worth continuing, given their salary would have amounted to far less than they were holding in escrow. Estimates drawn together by security expert and dark market aficionado Greg Jones for FORBES indicate the owners of the site would not have been making vast sums in comparison to how much was going through the site.  Verto and Kimble made most of their money from commission. The fees on Evo were, according to Verto forum posts, the lowest of all markets, with an incentive-based sliding scale of 2.5 – 4 per cent per transaction; vendors who’d made more than 150 Bitcoin in their overall Evo trading got the least commission taken off their individual sales.

To get an estimate of how much was passing through the site, Jones scraped information on the 2,194 known Evolution dealers (546 were disabled or suspended), all product listings and 90 per cent of customer feedback. From all this, Jones determined there were approximately 475,000 transactions over the last year, many of which would have included multiple items (it’s not possible to tell where this happened). Looking at the feedback, he determined a mean value of transactions at $90. To get a year’s revenue figure, Jones pushed his sum for the cost of an average transaction up to $110 to account for multiple items and postal costs. He multiplied that by 475,000 and got $52,250,000. If Verto and his cohorts took an average 3.5 per cent annual commission, they’d have made $1,828,750, or $152,395 a month. By simply scamming everyone, they would, and may have, made a lot more in one fell swoop.

When researchers attempted estimates for the Silk Road in 2012, a year after its founding, total annual sales were at $22 million. In the two and a half years of operating up till October 2014, its total sales reached around $200 million, according to Ulbricht’s prosecutors.

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Evolution had been growing fast and was set to make more. According to data from the Digital Citizens Alliance, at the end of January 2014, two weeks after launch, there were 5,812 listed products on Evolution. By August that had shot up to 13,699. In February of this year, that figure had more than doubled to hit 32,496. It continued to rise. The forum for the site boasted more than 28,000 users, with 150 joining every day.

Fraud material on the site was enough to concern financial services firms too. Digital Shadows, a London-based cyber intelligence startup, has tracked the site and dealt with a number of incidents arising out of fraud activity on the market. In a report put together for FORBES, CEO Alastair Paterson noted one of his client’s data was for sale on Evo and a sample made available for free as proof of the information’s validity. Digital Shadows, which is one of only a handful of firms to have created a search engine for the dark web, sent the data to the client, who confirmed its validity, found the source of the leak and shut it off. In another case, an Evo user sought compromised insiders within financial services firms, one of which was a Digital Shadows customer. Paterson wouldn’t go into detail on exactly what happened next, other than to say his private sleuths tracked responses to the ad, in case an employee was tempted to the dark side.

With so many valuable goods on their site, Verto and Kimble would have stood to have made a decent sum if they’d continued. But getting rich fast may have proven too much of a temptation.

Reddit users seeking mob justice believe they have found the Bitcoin wallet address that at least one of the admins is using to draw in Evo dealers’ funds. It has seen an influx of large sums of Bitcoin in the last week, with its total now at 43,083 BTC, the equivalent of $12.2 million at the current exchange rate. There’s no proof that wallet isn’t legitimate, however.

Whatever the truth, the apparent death of Evolution will likely send shockwaves across the dark markets. It was deemed by its users and many onlookers as the most secure and stable option around, with Agora being the only other dark market that was really challenging it for the dark market crown.

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There was also a sense of bonhomie on the forums where vendors and buyers of all those illicit goods spoke freely and cordially with one another. To celebrate its first birthday on 14 January, vendors of drugs, guns and stolen credit cards organised a competition to raise $8,290 to be given away to buyers.

In recent conversations with FORBES over encrypted email, NSWGreat had talked positively about his bosses and about the nature of the site in general. “They are very professional at their job. I have nothing but the utmost respect for both of them. Rarely does anyone actually get to meet them, being one of the privileged few to know them on personal terms. I can honestly say they’re genuinely nice and normal people.

“I know the general consensus is we’re fueling illegal crime and should be stopped at all costs, but really anyone who is actually a part of the community knows the majority of the people on the dark net want to get away from all those violent and inhumane crimes. If we could control the production as well we would (and many vendors have) but unfortunately not everyone wins out in life.”

If Evolution really is gone for good, it won’t just leave Evo’s users in shock (and bereft of serious Bitcoin), but will likely put many off dealing with centralised markets at all. Some of the biggest dealers, including the charmingly-named HonestCocaine and UKGanja, had already started setting up their own bespoke shops. Either Agora will see a huge influx of customers, or a lot of little markets will rise. It won’t be the death of drug sales on the dark web.

One of the Darknet’s Biggest Markets May Have Just Stolen All Its Users’ Bitcoin

Who you believe depends on who you trust, and on the darknet, trust matters more than you’d think.

By Jordan Pearson

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Mar 18 2015, 3:47am

Image: Flickr/Ivan David Gomez Arce

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The administrators of one of the darknet’s most popular markets for drugs and bespoke carjacking services may have just scammed its customers out of untold sums of money.

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Evolution, the site in question, rose to prominence after the fall of Silk Road and its unassuming founder, Ross U lbricht, with a promise of less fra ud and greater trust due to its centralized “escrow” system. It was exactly this system that allowed the site’s owners to make off with its users’ bitcoin.

The escrow system means that Evolution’s administrators must sign off on transactions before they go through, and the funds are held in escrow before they do. According to a post on the r/darknets subreddit made by a user named NSWGreat who claimed to have access to the site’s back end, Evolution’s administrators—Verto and Kimble—have shut down the market and taken everyone’s funds stored in the market’s “escrow” vaults.

This is a version of the “exit sca m,” a known darknet scam that involves a seller collecting a user’s Bitcoin without mailing their packages and then disappearing without a trace.

“This may fuck my business pretty good”

If the Evolution administrators did scam the site’s users, posts on Agora and Reddit indicate that the amount could be in the millions, with users having tens of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin in escrow.

“I am so sorry, but Verto and Kimble have fucked us all. I have over $20,000 in escrow myself from sales,” wrote NSWGreat. “I can’t fucking believe it, absolute scum. I am giving this warning to you all as soon as I possibly could of.”

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<a href=”https://r.turn.com/r/formclick/urlid/1W7sZe6tJhn3WhTnIpCgLCi-U4Di_UL2HrNph9PTRDZW3epzWasRpbB8l_bfJrqG671kJi9XnxO0f0h4CruIV0gVUaa81rE5Va5TPoJV_1Ntn4-ZNPeiesLCUWGi5Q0pMWbkzlGGcC6WVOlEZfJADYzbLcisF5vf52pYjnxx7sgLDq60qaLSM9lSDH_P7r3m2LfHLNhuhT3pi82fEsIKY-zMcLaIqUa9FRu7ru1ABYiNUGmIQi3RsUWwe-RHOnGSx-tRSlaY_S5-UTHuVeG0yMXo-aHptx355qBsTUL9a42dgjVeZJr1PpFHei2wNM4ZnWlAwDQ7geDGJIDYeD_ciY9LaJHxZVgog5dCRkGeKs7qKh7ZJI2hgVO_rFNXpUU16VG0mZTiZKAK_SlRRm1b8WZPyuZmGZq1d4BfRws-GdSODte1DRgSZz3MMmfGecp86Nsl74i87VA_7fN3Dsm3aOE_F1IdZ3ROyuOxqwQKiNIDWeNO_fRwPWkmMxK-FLhNz1Q7drY7m1ebFYsh9HKgvkRogampkqAGlMTqkJi4fShfbQe3J6ASY6n-VReVXfg09nE3Gts0Wb_gj2hAPLUBrESIrVS7PKou9Ni74XisbveWpJ28HdX6H2LPb3oNkC6Vcnyt_TgenNqUJg9OIQQM0OrIGVziCd-ukijEDyPCZNhpg5Fk_yvjvkM34A6QOhpfcdUj6IdCT8VRB95A-nzTAQH_zHMQXelV8f93FR3gvGhmWLaksLXEw_6BBMkEhE5pLx5EN4cHamldjZf49HAtlm2Q9MhGi7Tuq7QeKByo7i3XcVngjOBk4YrHyMs-9dJHRGRw76tji91GDD6vJLtgtjK0eFHts_e3F9kmUnWcpxZ-sfEZBKSPKcPQcx_jlb-UcLf4KfHkB09Eyp4QasF11GxCXOZXAg0aPGuQlBoZTucHfpAW5Dej71etO9dV8ekUDpQzEgthDZ84iEHd4qSrSNPY0Ryyq4gTKoYDNnHnk25_eNsQ5feVnhp6gJxxUsySWN2mky_FVV76MiyGc7-NX2JRfnCdxLbPC3h7TxlbVEY4/url/https://bs.serving-sys.com/BurstingPipe/adServer.bs?cn=brd&FlightID=23607355&Page=&PluID=0&Pos=1392462405&#8243; target=”_blank”><img src=”https://fw.adsafeprotected.com/rfw/bs.serving-sys.com/134164/21186080/BurstingPipe/adServer.bs?cn=bsr&FlightID=23607355&Page=&PluID=0&Pos=1392462405&LineID=$$$$&TID=24792&TVAL=$$%5B%25TP_PLACEMENTCLASSIFICATIONS1%25%5D$$&#8221; border=0 width=300 height=250></a>

A similar sc am was carried out at another one of Silk Road’s successors, a market called Sheep, in 2013. Sheep administrators announced that the site had been robbed of bitcoin by a vendor, and shut itself down. Of course, there was no way of telling whether the site was really taken advantage of, or if the administrators hadn’t taken off with the bitcoin themselves.

Although Evolution’s forums are currently down—along with the site, lending weight to NSWGreat’s claims—on the forum of Evolution’s competitor market, Agora, users were upset. One vendor, TheRealNurseJoy, posted that they were “enthusiastically accepting donations since Evolution just stole a shite load of money” from them. Another vendor, Trust-In-Us, wrote, “Looks like I am out a good amount of money. This may fuck my business pretty good.”

The responses from redditors ranged from shock and awe to bitter desperation. One user who claimed to have 50 bitcoin in escrow on Evolution, the equivalent of roughly $14,000, commented, “I OWE MONEY AND CANT PAY IF THIS IS TRUE. MY LIFES IN DANGER. PLEASE DONT BE TRUE PLEASE.”

Some users were more skeptical, however, despite vendors claiming to be out Bitcoin and everyone having a general meltdown. The only solid proof, some redditors noted, was NSWGreat’s word. When several users asked for screenshots or suggested that they would be nice to have, NSWGreat responded by saying they “don’t take screenshots anyway.”

Who you believe depends on who you trust, and on the darknet, trust matters more than you’d think.

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