If you’ve watched a television show about law enforcement or criminal investigation recently, you’ve probably heard about the dark web. For a long time, it was like the Amazon.com of all things illegal, where you can search for everything from weapons to credit card numbers to hit men, and of course drugs. Law enforcement officials have managed to shut down many of the sites, prompting drug sellers to look for other means of peddling their wares. They’re now turning to a secure messaging app called Wickr.

Wickr was founded in San Francisco in 2012 by a group of security experts as a private, highly encrypted instant messenger that allowed people to send photos, videos, and file attachments and place video conference calls. All identifiable information is removed by a process called salting and hashing. In cryptography, a hashed password is one that has been scrambled. The user sets a password, and then a hash value is created from a combination of the password and a key generated by the site. Salting is the addition of a random string of characters to the password, again known only to the site doing the encrypting. What this means in the real world is that no information is truly stored, so police seizure of computers of phones is essentially useless

Wickr even allows you to set how long information can be seen before it disappears (bringing to mind Mission Impossible style self-destructing messages). The app is available on mobile phones, tablets, and computers, and it regularly goes through security audits to search for any exploitable bugs.

The process of buying drugs on Wickr is simple. You message a dealer to ask for a price, send the free to their cryptocurrency address, and provide your address so they can mail you the drugs. It’s becoming increasingly popular with drug dealers because of the speed and ease of transactions. It’s also preferable for people who aren’t too tech-savvy and don’t know how to navigate the dark web. A quick search through Reddit threads turns up lists of Wickr user names and advice on how to find legitimate “vendors” and avoid being ripped off. That same search, however, will also reveal dozens of stories about people losing hundreds of dollars when their product never showed, and of course, there’s no way to track down the seller and attempt to get the money back.

PEOPLE ARE USING AN INSTANT MESSENGER TO PURCHASE ILLEGAL DRUGS

To be clear, there’s no evidence that the Wickr executives or any of its backers are aware of these illegal activities. It’s an unfortunate fact that people will use any means necessary to sell and procure drugs, and anything that helps them steer clear of law enforcement is going to be especially popular.

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