Skip to main content
news

The encrypted Underground Weapons, drugs, and identities for sale on the Russian ‘Deep Web’

Meduza
Khadia Ulumbekova

The usual search engines don’t index a considerable part of the Internet. But it’s not hard to get to the shadowy area: just install the Tor browser, which allows users to remain anonymous, and know a few important addresses. With this, you can solve a variety of “problems”—from obtaining forged documents to buying an anti-tank missile system. For some people, using the so-called "Deep Web" is a matter of ideological principle. For others, it’s a technical necessity when breaking the law to avoid publicity. The Russian government is no stranger to censoring the legal parts of the Internet (new “anti-terrorist” laws only amplify the crackdown), and it's not hard to imagine a wave of Russian-speaking new arrivals to the Deep Web. Meduza’s special correspondent Daniil Turovsky talked with various people whose life and livelihoods are connected to the Russian Deep Web, and learned more about how this world works.

Notice: The production, marketing, and other activities involving narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is punishable by law (see Articles 228-231 of the Russian Criminal Code). The illegal purchase, storage, and sale of weapons is a criminal offense, as described in the Russian Criminal Code (Article 222), as is the forgery of documents (Article 327). Meduza’s editorial board understands that some of the characters in this article are involved in illegal activity, but considers the topic of the "Deep Web" important enough to examine in detail and share the results with its readers. Meduza’s reporter communicated with all the story’s characters via encrypted chat. They refused to meet face-to-face or reveal their real identities.

A package with a gun

A car stopped on the shoulder next to a forest not far from the Moscow Ring Road. A man with a package exited the vehicle, looking around and approaching the appointed road sign. He put the package with a pistol and ammunition on the ground, and piled leaves on top of it. A few hours later the buyer, who was told where to look, collected the “package.”

This has been a regular ritual for the "broker.” He’s led a double life over the last few years. His family, friends, and co-workers know him as a fan of country vacations. What they don't know is that he’s rented a soundproof shop in central Moscow for several years, where he assembles firearms to sell on the Deep Web.

He got on the Russian-speaking Deep Web about five years ago. He was interested in everything unavailable on the normal Internet: the production of official seals, passports, drugs, and weapons. He registered on Runion, one of the largest Deep-Web forums in Russia under the name “Korabas.” The forum can be viewed with Tor, an encryption program that, like Harry Potter's invisible cloak, hides the user and allows you to get to sites not indexed by conventional search engines. The technology on which Tor is based was created in a US Navy laboratory in the mid-1990s to protect networked US government agencies. It has since been declassified and transferred to third-party developers. Currently the program is one of the most effective ways to bypass censorship on the Internet and remain anonymous. In 2013, Edward Snowden used Tor to pass documents to reporters, and the New Yorker uses it to gather information from anonymous sources.

Using the forums, Korabas collected instructions on guns. He spent more money than he expected on production. He put the gun for sale, and it was suddenly bought very quickly. Korabas then decided keep going and try to earn some extra money.

The user anonymously rented a shop and bought a few machines and drills. However, the shop isn’t heated, so it’s only comfortable to work there in the spring and summer. "I have to sit there in winter when there are orders,” he says. Korabas often uses the acronym "emnip" ("if memory serves me") when telling his story.

Business grew rapidly and Korabas soon found sellers of various types of ammunition and began to make silencers. Korabas eventually became one of the major arms dealers on Runion. While others were reselling, Korabas would buy flare guns and rework them into 9x18 mm caliber—one of the most common in the former Soviet Union. After modifying the gun, Korabas usually attaches his silencer and testfires right in his workshop, in the center of the city. “I’m too lazy to carry a gun into the forest to test it." "In the movies, pistols with silencers shoot silently, in reality, it suppresses 50% [of the noise] at best,” he says.

Selling arms on Tor is a hobby for him: the prices in the "store" start at 60,000 rubles ($925), there’s one or two sales a month so that he earns around 500,000 rubles ($7,700) a year. "You definitely won’t earn that sitting at home,” Korabas writes and adds three laughing emojis. This hobby, however, has perks: the seller himself occasionally gets to go shooting out of town. "I don’t take money for the shooting range from the family budget. I only spend the money that I'm earning through Tor.”

Korabas understands that he the police could catch him at any moment, and lock him up for years. That's why he uses extreme caution. His runs Linux on his computer, encrypts his hard drives, he goes online through Tor, and he withdraws his earnings from foreign credit cards that Korabas issues to people he knows personally.

There are thousands of people with similar lives on the Russian-speaking Tor. There’s two or three thousand visitors a day on Runion alone. Tor administrators and sellers, who are often engaged in criminal activities, rarely communicate with journalists. They believe that any careless exposure may lead to arrest by the security services.

On June 18, 2016, a representative from Ruion, the largest Russian-speaking forum in the Deep Web contacted Meduza with an offer to interview "one of the most respected and influential persons of the Russian-speaking section of the so-called Deep Internet." They presented Nikkon, a forum administrator who guarantees transactions. He makes sure what’s being sold is as the seller claims and according to the agreed procedure. At the time, the State Duma began considering the "Yarovaya Laws"—a group of "anti-terrorist" amendments that included a blow against privacy on the Internet (the State Duma adopted the legislation on June 24, 2016, and Vladimir Putin signed it on July 7, 2016). The Runion representative explained that the reason to talk included his desire to convey to the audience that Tor is safe for communication, and that it’s not just a place for pedophiles and drug dealers, and there are many people who value the freedom to disseminate any information.

Khadia Ulumbekova

A gift of emeralds

One autumn evening in 2014, Nikkon sat in a Moscow hotel room, drank wine, and read his forum. After finishing work earlier than expected, he waited for a flight, which only ran every other day. During the trip, he often thought about a gift for his girlfriend. "I wanted something original,” he says.

One of his acquaintances on Runion came to him with an unexpected offer to help with the sale of emeralds (trafficking in natural precious stones is illegal in accordance with Article 191 of the Russian Criminal Code).

As the forum’s official guarantor, Nikkon periodically transacts the sale of drugs and weapons: he verifies the goods and gets a percentage that amounts to around $3,500 a month. However, Runion’s administrator still doesn’t consider it work. "Alas, the proceeds from this activity and the basic salary are not the greatest,” he says. “It may change in a couple of years, given the rate of growth of the market. "

Nikkon says an acquaintance agreed to the deal. His task was to deliver the money to the buyer to confirm their existence, and wait for a sign from the seller to transfer the goods. Another man checked the emeralds’ quality.

After finishing the deal, he decided to buy his girlfriend some jewelry. For the first time, Nikkon wore the “client’s shoes”: after picking up the “bookmark,” he was worried just like anyone that he would run into the cops. However, nothing happened.

At the time, Nikkon had been on the forum about a year. There, he crossed paths with the forum’s carders: fraudsters who stole money from credit cards. In the early 2000s, there were dozens of English and Russian speaking Internet forums dedicated openly to ways to commit fraud; carders sometimes earned tens of thousands of dollars. By the middle of the last decade, Nikkon recalls, the forums were closed one after the other, and their regulars started going to prison. After being released from prison some of them have changed careers and began to make a living in cybersecurity. For example, the Belarusian carder Dmitry Naskovets started a company in New York that identifies vulnerabilities in corporate networks. In 2016, Wired magazine reported on the Ukrainian hacker-informant Maxim Popov who assisted the FBI to shut down Carderplanet, the largest carding site in the world. Popov monitored secret chats, helped to arrest one of the sellers, but then had a falling out with the FBI and returned to Ukraine, where he started a cybersecurity company.

Nikkon says he wasn’t involved in carding, and "was only interested to read about it." He uses Tor he because of his "thirst for knowledge inaccessible in the public domain." Back then, he recalls, Tor presented itself as a "textbook collection of stigmas that continues to the present": kiddie porn with frightening cryptic pages with maze-games and soundtracks of crying children. Because of such sites, the Deep Web quickly entered the mythology of teenage Russian-speaking NetStalkers (Internet explorers) as a place where the truth can be found on its "special levels.” In their videos, NetStalkers talk about the final level of "deep Internet" as the "quiet house," which allegedly has information "about God/death/life and anything you desire." Participants believe there you can find the so-called "Death Group," about which the newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a controversial story in 2016.

By studying the underground network, Nikkon ran across an English-language forum with articles about encryption and drugs. In a conversation with Meduza, he described how he found "riches" because of "unconventional" topics. Then he found others, many of which, however, would soon cease to exist. Nikkon recalls, for example, the collapse of Freedom Hosting. In 2013, the server’s owner, where tens of Tor sites were hosted, was arrested, and labeled "the largest disseminator of child pornography in the world." A Meduza source has called the server’s closure "the first serious blow to Tor." The FBI later claimed that the servers were monitored up until the owner’s arrest.

Freedom Hosting’s vulnerability frightened many in the Russian-speaking Tor community. The damage, however, was limited to a few sites. The main area, which consists of four sites (Runion, RAMP, R2D2 and Amberoad) continued to function. Their creators followed the example of their English-speaking colleagues, particularly the Silk Road site, around which a kind of cult had already formed.

Pirate Roberts and his followers

Khadia Ulumbekova

In late 2010, the young American libertarian Ross Ulbricht, who was working in a bookstore at the time, scribbled down in his diary a new idea: "Create a website where people can buy anything anonymously, leaving no way to track them down." A few months later, he launched the Silk Road, a global digital bazaar. The first item sold was psilocybin mushrooms Ulbricht grew himself. Other dealers soon caught on. Silk Road was the first to unite Tor and Bitcoin. To use them all was simple enough: for example, goods are often mailed in DVD cases. Thanks to the Silk Road, thousands of "normal Internet" users learned about Tor and the power of anonymity.

The security services learned about Silk Road, and in January 2012 organized a special team to track down the site’s creators. By that time Ulbricht was earning a monthly $25,000 commission from purchases through the portal. He appeared on Silk Road under the name “Dread Pirate Roberts” and used the platform not just to earn money but to also publish his libertarian sermons: "I have created a new type of economy so people can feel what it’s like to live in peace without the influence of the authorities." He was convinced that each sale on his site was a step toward universal freedom.

In the end, the US intelligence agencies discovered Ulbricht and arrested him at a library in a San Francisco. In May 2015, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Before sentencing, Ulbricht wrote a letter to the judge: "Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices. [...] What it turned into was, in part, a convenient way for people to satisfy their drug addictions. I learned from Silk Road that when you give people freedom, you don’t know what they’ll do with it."

The Russian-speaking forum Runion picked up on Ross Ulbricht’s libertarian ideas in 2012. The forum also has a manifesto. It reads: "The Internet has become dangerous to people who want to take away our right to exchange information, to put it under their control, and restrict the freedom of speech. They harass people who spread their ideas and want to control our every step with surveillance." According to the manifesto, Runion was created by people "with a keen sense of justice." They sell weapons in the forum because "we want people to decide with what and how to protect themselves and their loved ones." On selling drugs: "We want to control what goes into our own bodies."

Runion’s administrator, who goes by the name “Zed,” wrote the manifesto with several users. Runion’s creator, “Xbit,” handed the forum over to him four years ago. It’s believed that Xbit founded the first Russian-language website in the Deep Web. No one has heard from Xbit since he handed over the site.

Little is known about Zed, even by his colleagues. His avatar has the letter “Z” in a light red circle, and judging from forum threads he is well versed in the vulnerability of websites and hacking. “Zed personifies of all sort of Runion’s ideas. He rarely and very reluctantly speaks about himself,” says Nikkon. “He’s a mystery man.”

Runion representatives don’t consider their site a trading platform. They actively support the exchange of information in the forum, and every month reward people who’ve written the most interesting articles with Bitcoins. For example: "Car theft and easy registration," "How to hack VKontakte?" "How to steal money from companies," and "Divorce students for money.”

In the "Request" section, users search for people to perform jobs. Among the most popular topics in 2015 are the trade: "I’m offering high-paid work to people for performing punitive actions." What is required is explained in the order "To track, fire traumatic weapons, destroy property, intimidate, and take out (kill)." There are also people looking for phone pranksters, grenade launchers, and mercury.

In contrast, Ramp (Russian Anonymous Marketplace), the second resource of the "Big Four,” sees itself primarily as a store, and to date it has in fact turned into an enormous online supermarket for any drugs (even though law enforcement is constantly closing similar sites in the English-speaking Internet).

Ramp’s home page features colorful and unambiguous banners. More than a hundred stores operate throughout Russia’s regions. The advertisements here are searching for drug couriers. They promise a salary of $3,000 to $10,000 a month, and guarantee "a friendly and helpful staff," "support for all initiatives and undertakings,” “paid leave every two months," and "protection."

The drug lord Darkside heads Ramp. He’s called the “Big Boss” and the “Maharaja” on his forum. His avatar is the character Tyler Durden from Fight Club and on his profile there are the quotes: "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” and "There’s nothing more permanent than temporary." His place of residence is a quote from Star Wars: “a galaxy far, far away.” Darkside himself occasionally serves as a guarantor for transactions.

Darkside also has a manifesto. His ideology, however, isn’t like Runion’s or the Silk Road’s. Darkside has prohibited discussions in the forum of politics, weapons, hacking, and counterfeit documents. "Politics always attracts attention” the administrator said in an interview with Wired in late 2014. We don’t want that. " In the same interview, he explained that Ramp still exists because the Russian authorities are not very attuned to Internet criminals.

In contrast to the Silk Road, Ramp doesn’t take commission on transactions. Instead, every seller with goods featured on the forum pays a monthly fee of $300 to thousands of dollars for a place on the forum. Ramp makes about $250,000 a year. Sales don’t automatically occur, as with English-speaking resources like Amazon, because the buyer and seller have to personally agree to every purchase in a secure chat.

Those who know Darkside describe him to Meduza as a "peculiar character."

"What happened to him from long-term use of freebie drugs is a separate issue,” says one of the forum heads in the Russian Tor. “But it is undeniable that when he found the format he was mostly feeling things out and developed it to be quite stable. So far, he hasn’t gone away. People say they haven’t seen him there for a long time. Maybe he just delegated collecting profits to subordinates, but maybe not, who knows.” Meduza wasn’t able to contact Darkside.

Two forums in the “Big Four”—R2D2 and Amberoad—ceased operation in 2015.

R2D2 “died” after the administration attempted to turn the discussion forum into trading platform. He didn’t login very often and its traffic slumped. Before shutting down, the R2D2 administrator disappeared with sellers’ money. He stole about $5,000, Nikkon tells Meduza.

A Meduza source familiar with the history of the trading platform Amberoad says that it had a lot of problems in 2014. First, the police arrested one of the site’s sellers, then the administrators prohibited him from selling, and then the hacker Sleepwalker hacked the site. Sleepwalker personally told Meduza that he found a critical vulnerability in Amberoad’s security: administrators were using simple passwords, and many transactions were done using private messages without encryption.

New forums and marketplaces in the Russian-speaking Tor took the place of the closed sites. Most of them only survive for a few months. Among the new "survivors" in the Russian-speaking Tor is the Online Library Flibusta, which Roskomnadzor blocked on the "normal Internet" in June 2015.

"The gang from Thailand" and a 4-million-ruble proposal: the security services and the Deep Web

Russian law enforcement agencies have been calling for a ban on Tor since 2013. The head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov, Edward Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, and the head of the Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies, and Communications, Leonid Levin, have all talked about it. 

In July 2014, the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD), on behalf of the Research-and-production association "Special Technology and Communication," announced a proposal to study the possibility of getting access to anonymous Tor network users’ data. The cost of the work is estimated at almost 4 million rubles ($62,000, today). 

But a year later, the Central Research Institute of Economy, Informatics, and Control Systems (TsNII EISU) backed out of the project, telling the media that it couldn’t explain its decision because of a "classified progress of work." In February 2016, Alexander Vurasko, a representative from the MVD’s anti-extremism “Department K” said that "it was possible to track the footprints cybercriminals using network-based encryption technologies, including the Tor, left behind on the Internet." On July 27, 2016, Alexander Bortnikov, the FSB director, again spoke about the need to "solve the problem" of anonymity on the Internet.

While the problem hasn’t been solved, the Russian security services have caught sellers on Tor because of their mistakes in real life.

In mid-June 2016, the residents of a community garden in the Sverdlovsk region smelled a pungent chemical odor from an unfinished concrete building on the edge of the forest. They complained to the police about it. Soon, local FSB officers detained the tenant—a 27-year-old chemistry student from Yekaterinburg University. In the building, there were several respirators, test tubes, and chemical agents in cans and bottles. The laboratory was on the building’s second story. The floors were covered with a plastic sheet, and there was an oven for drying drugs on a table. During the search, the FSB seized almost 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of a substance that is considered synthetic cocaine. The FSB believes the man was working for one of the Internet sites producing synthetic drugs for the buyers-sellers. He got paid in Bitcoins.

Khadia Ulumbekova

In Volgograd, the “Gang from Thailand” allegedly acted in a similar manner. On July 18, 2016, the Volgograd public prosecutor 's office said that a criminal organization was operating in the city, and distributing drugs through “packages” under the leadership of Daria Shcherbakova, a 25-year-old resident of Novosibirsk. The prosecutor's office believes that Shcherbakov is the "head of a drug cartel located in the Kingdom of Thailand" and issued an international arrest warrant. The gang consisted of 19 "drug couriers and traffickers"; they arrested eight of them, who now face prison sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years.

You can find dozens of similar cases in the news over the last few years. In April 2016, the same Sverdlovsk FSB branch arrested four "young people distributing drugs through an online forum." They sold about 20 kilos (45 pounds) a month. Around the same time, a 19-year-old freshman was arrested in Yekaterinburg for distributing packages of synthetic heroin. She was paid in Bitcoins. In March, the FSB officers arrested a gang that owned a store on RAMP. The police found about a thousand tablets, and seized bank cards issued to unknown people and a drug laboratory. They also weren’t arrested by hacking Tor, but because of common carelessness: in January, associates from St. Petersburg sent them a batch of drugs by a shipping company and said it was industrial oil. The gang was arrested when they picked up the parcel.

Despite these cases, the people in the Russian-speaking Deep Web view attempts by the Russian security services to infiltrate their milieu with skepticism. "Everyone in the forum laughed,” says Nikkon, about the stated MVD proposal. “In the United States, they give their institutions ten times more money for the same tasks," and it’s successful only sometimes. In February 2016, Motherboard reported that researchers at Carnegie Mellon University on a Department of Defense contract apparently managed to de-anonymize some Tor users. In particular, Brian Farrell, the creator of Silk Road’s successor, the website Silk Road 2. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in June 2016.

One of the project managers for Russian-speaking Tor told Meduza that "it’s likely someone from the security services is sitting in Tor, but we haven’t noticed any active operations." "It looks suspicious if a person takes an unhealthy interest in the identities and affairs of others because it isn’t customary in Tor to ask for more than people are willing to say themselves," says Nikkon. "The security services are far away from Tor. They still don’t consider it a threat,” Korabas adds. "They are, of course, interested in large stores like Ramp,” the hacker Sleepwalker explains. “But a conflict with them is inevitable as more and more people begin to spill onto Tor. Exciting times are upon us. "

Recently, a few active users suddenly went missing from the Russian-speaking Tor community. "Instances where very interesting guys disappear are sometimes an early sign that something bad has happened to them,” Nikkon says. “On the other hand, other factors explain these incidents and we don’t have reason to suspect the FSB is behind them. We believe we shouldn’t underestimate the enemy, but excessive paranoia makes us skittish." He refused to specify what he meant by "early signs": "What I said might affect their fate if by chance something bad really did happen."

Sometimes, however, law enforcement provoke the Deep Web’s inhabitants. When Meduza recently ran an article with comments from laid-off staff at Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, where one person claimed that drug producers and distributors actively recruit his colleagues, an official denial of this information appeared on the Ramp main page. "He keeps gratifying the press. None of us called him, you need us. ********* [Liar]," reads the message posted between the instructions on "What to do if they don’t accept Bitcoins" and an Old Testament quote from the Book of Leviticus: "You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, or weight, or quantity.”

‘Is there a problem, bro? You need a piece’: The economics of the Deep Web

When Nikkon worked for Runion as a guarantor, the most memorable of the dozens of transactions that passed through him was a large batch of LSD, which a chemical analysis proved to be fake, and "a real anti-tank missile launcher.” "Who and why anyone needed it, I'll never know,” he says. “Maybe someone just took it from a stockpile, or perhaps read about it in the news somewhere :)"

Meduza sources who run Tor shops say that drugs make up 90 percent of all sales on the Deep Web. Weapons are another 5 percent, and the rest are forged documents and so on.

A chemist by profession, Nikkon says that he periodically talks with other specialists about banning the posting of “socially dangerous" instructions for making explosives on Tor. It’s easy to make a mistake synthesizing them and that will lead to the casualties. The Runion administrator doesn’t have a clear position on this point, though Nikkon is inclined to believe that "people should be able to take care of themselves." This is a common position on the Deep Web. 

Cody Wilson, one of the world's most famous advocates for the free flow of information, came out with the “Liberator Pistol” in 2012. It can be printed out on a 3D-printer. Because of this, Wired included him on its list of the most dangerous people in the world. In 2016, Wilson promises to come out with an analogous semi-automatic rifle.

"I’ve never wanted to know why people need to buy a gun from me.” Korabas says. “I always get the impression that the buyers with whom I communicate aren’t stupid. They’ve just mastered Tor, encryption, and Bitcoins. Educated people get themselves a gun just to have it. There’s no screening or censorship of a sale.”

"I don't ask people why they need a gun,” says Baron_black, "one of the major gun sellers in the CIS." “The role of guns in killing citizens is greatly exaggerated. Cigarettes and alcohol are killing hundreds of times more people than the occasional psychopaths who fire at a crowd. The government prohibits gun ownership because it can be used in defense against government tyranny."

In addition to pistols, Baron_black also sells a shooting "spy pen" that is easy to carry in any event or on a plane. Baron_black shoots videos about his store. In one of them, he tests guns in the woods, while a song plays with the lyrics: "You got a problem, bro? You need a piece. You live in the ghetto? You definitely need a piece.”

It’s possible to find more exotic things than guns and drugs on Tor, too. For example, there are experts who can create a new identity for you.

The hacker who invents people

Khadia Ulumbekova

Sleepwalker got interested in Tor and anonymity after his friend was almost imprisoned "for hacking into a certain institution." The friend didn’t think he could be tracked.

After this incident, Sleepwalker started creating "personalities" (or "identities"), and after a time, he started selling them. In his conversation with Meduza, he specified that Sleepwalker is just one of his "identities," and he also has other projects and other nicknames. In the Russian-speaking Tor community, he’s known as the hacker who will test-hack sites and give consultations on anonymity for Bitcoins. He was the one who hacked Amberoad, and now, he says, he helps one of the Tor “drug lords” protect his resources.

Sleepwalker’s been watching movies about hackers since childhood. "A guy sits there and hacks into something, and green letters flash on a black screen. It seemed mysterious," he says. On Runion, he wrote the article "To be a hacker?!" which came with the rule: "Hackers experience pleasure from solving problems, finding a workaround, and understanding the process." On the site, Sleepwalker taught people how "to gather evidence from a suspect’s computer" and how to hack pages on the social network VKontakte. He explained to Meduza that he doesn’t hack sites and accounts on social networks for the money. In 2014, Sleepwalker actually stole the email and VKontakte account of a student who asked how much his hacking services cost.

Several years ago, Sleepwalker got access to a database of passport scans and other documents. He got it by chance, when he was looking over passwords on one of the store’s servers. After that, the hacker began to "extract" scans of documents from different companies and to create “identities” for them on the Internet.

He starts work on every "identity" by inventing its personal history. After that, he starts to bring them "to life." For a "ready-to-use identity," the hacker registers several accounts on social networks with photos and 200-300 friends. He fills in their "elaborate interests and little details," then he writes posts on topics suitable for the "identity," and models the identity's language. Then he registers the “identity” on Yandex Money and QIWI, registers the identity's phone number, and in rare cases gets access to online forums to post the “person’s” comments.

It takes about a month of work to create an "identity.” In the last few years, Sleepwalker has sold about a hundred for between $50 to $100 each.

"To create one, it’s enough to consider the main factors that people online believe makes someone real, and then you can be anyone for a provider, ordinary people, or law enforcement,” says the hacker. “This can be useful for a variety of matters, like blackmail. It will not only create the effect of a definite person, but it will really be within a virtual space. For example, to send and receive money and to talk on behalf of a virtual person."

He says that the hardest aspect of this work is to master the cognizance of the "identity" you create. That is, to write in the right language and not post stupid comments. "Sometimes an account becomes livelier than some of the regular user's accounts online,” he says. “Once I was asked to create a smart, beautiful girl to attract foreigners to Facebook and divorce them for money. They poured in."

At different times, Sleepwalker has created “identities” made to look like students, adventure-seekers, girls interested in the Deep Web, and copywriters. He even invented an old fisherman, for his own amusement, giving him passport scans, virtual money accounts on Yandex-Money and Qiwi, and a profile on Avito. He left the fisherman's Vkontakte page incomplete. "He’s an old man, so that’s the way it needs to be."

Sleepwalker says he feels uncomfortable on the regular Internet. "There is a sense of accountability to something or someone,” he says. “I feel relaxed just hiding behind an anonymous person. "

This text was translated from Russian by Sean Guillory.

Daniil Turovsky

Moscow