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Aussie cops: Silk Road TOR anonymity 'not guaranteed'

There is no guarantee of anonymity for Australian buyers and sellers of illicit drugs on the TOR-encrypted e-commerce platform Silk Road, according to the Australian Federal Police and Australian Customers and Border Protection.

The pair released a joint statement Wednesday pointing to the arrest of one Melbourne man who allegedly imported narcotics via Silk Road.

“Criminals are attempting to exploit the international mail system through online networks, but the recent arrest demonstrates that we are one step ahead of them,” said AFP Manager Crime Operations Peter Sykora.

Sykora said it was aware Silk Road was operated from an offshore location, but warned Australian users were within the reach of the AFP’s powers.

The site can only be accessed via TOR, which masks IP address details that could otherwise be stored by an ISP and associated with a user account. Silk Road trade relies on the virtual currency BitCoin for transactions.

Alana Sullivan, acting national of Custom’s cargo and maritime targeting branch, said it monitors Silk Road along with other illicit-drug sites and was aware of the Australian presence on Silk Road as both sellers and buyers.

“Persons who buy or sell through online market places, on so-called ‘anonymous’ networks should understand that they are not guaranteed anonymity,” said Sullivan.

The statement follows a recent comment by Chris McDonald, an associate professor in computer science at the University of Western Australia and Dartmouth College in the US, that the federal government has “no chance of beating” TOR encryption, The Age reported in in April.

Law enforcement may not be able to beat TOR’s encryption. However, it did not prevent US authorities in April arresting eight men accused of operating The Farmer’s Market -- another service that used the TOR anonymiser to facilitate trade. Undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents had infiltrated the organisation after becoming trusted buyers over several years of investigation.

There were no Australian arrests, however the indictment pointed to funds funnelled through that operation that were sourced from Australia via Western Union.