Interview with Andreas Rybak (Connect Admin)

In a couple of recent posts, I’d written about the social network Connect. While I had initially misjudged it as a scam, I think that’s all cleared up now.

Therefore, one of the admins of Connect, Andreas Rybak, offered to do an interview. How could I say no? We discussed such things as privacy, staying anonymous, and the general experience of using “the darknet” (Tor in particular).

Secrets of the Dark: How long have you been active on Tor? What was your earliest experience like?

Andreas Rybak: I’ve been active on Tor for somewhere around 4 years. Honestly don’t recall how long. I do recall that Tor was a more active place back then.

SoTD:Were you part of any other social networks before starting Connect?

AR: I was part of the original Torbook and was staff on the original Blackbook. Even had an account on Galaxy2 back before that site ended up dying off.

SoTD: You recently started a social site called Blackbook. Is it similar to the original one in any way, and how is it different from Connect?

AR: New Blackbook is basically just keeping the brand name. There was no reason to change Connect’s name since it’s become so established. It’s more about news and blog posts than actual social media.

SoTD: I noticed an ad for a site called The Pot Shop on Blackbook. Is that your marketplace?

AR: To my knowledge, The Pot Shop isn’t directly associated with or run by the Connect staff. Ads for the place were on here before I joined staff, so yeah.

SoTD: Because Tor is intended for privacy and anonymity, do you feel that joining a social network compromises this in any way?

AR: No, because ultimately your identity is still concealed and unless you’re stupid enough to put up legitimate pictures, names, and personal information, you’ll still be as anonymous as the rest of us. Just for the record, Andreas Rybak is not my actual name.

SoTD: You also have a site called Signal Appstore. How does it differ from other marketplaces?

AR: It sells android apps not available at most clearnet marketplaces and offers app designers the opportunity to create their own apps and sell them if they wish. I had no direct input or anything on that project – was all Admin.

SoTD: A cybersecurity researcher recently exposed some flaws of darknet markets on Twitter. What are some ways that you, personally, practice good opsec?

AR: I keep my head down. Ultimately, direct connection with a crime or criminal activity is the reason people come after you. So long as you aren’t directly showcased to have participated in or been involved in a crime, you are not at risk of involvement. Leave no trace of any conversations – many of the people who had accounts on sites like Silk Road that were seized never even had police come to their house because they did nothing wrong – never bought or sold anything to anyone’s knowledge.

SoTD: Do you have any thoughts on the other darknet markets that are currently active (e.g. Dream Market, Wall Street, CGMC)?

AR: I don’t actively use markets or get involved with them outside of Blackbook’s own little market. I personally think peer-to-peer connections are a better way to ensure reliable access to various goods, but maybe that’s me being jaded regarding markets given how many of them were scams.

SoTD: I often get asked questions like, “Is there anything good on the dark web?” How would you respond to a question like that?

AR: The first thing to remember is that the vast majority of what you see on the Darknet is a lie. Markets, services, people – always assume people are lying to you until you get proof otherwise. I’ve met people who are legitimate, but it took a while for me to trust that they were. A few have taken a couple years for me to assume are true.

I couldn’t resist.

SoTD: How do you feel about the revelations about the data collection on huge networks like Facebook and Google’s services?

AR: It’s not surprising. The more control one has, the more likely one is to abuse that. Google, Facebook, don’t be a dick. Actually care about your users.

SoTD: In addition to using Tor, are there other things that you might recommend, such as a VPN (particularly if you’re running sites like yours)?

AR: Not with regards to our site because there’s no blatant criminal activity going on here. Law enforcement is looking mostly on places where active criminal transactions are occurring, and as is our market is basically impossible to prove as legitimate overall given we make no authentication as to the goods and services offered, forcing you to form P2P relationships if you want to do anything. Besides, for anyone reading, we admins can’t actually see whatever you say in PMs, so your anonymity is still quite assured.

SoTD: Do you have future ideas for any other sites, or for the ones that you run now? Are you taking suggestions?

AR: I don’t have any future plans to make stuff, but I’m always open to suggestions. Personally, I’d like to get a site up to support my consulting services, and I’d be interested in seeing if some organizations would be interested in growing a darknet presence.

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