FBI shuts down Silk Road online drug market

The FBI has shut down the Silk Road online drug market and arrested kingpin Ross Ulbricht, previously known only as Dread Pirate Roberts

The FBI has shut down the Silk Road online drug market and arrested kingpin Ross Ulbricht, previously known only by the moniker Dread Pirate Roberts.

Ulbricht, arrested in San Francisco, is believed to have run the trade in drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth using the virtual currency Bitcoin and free online anonymity software Tor.

Court papers filed in the case in Manhattan accuse him of engaging in a “massive money-laundering” operation and of trying to arrange a murder-for-hire, according to the New York Times.

The 29-year-old  is being charged with narcotics trafficking , computer hacking , and money laundering conspiracies, according to The Verge.

Ulbricht also allegedly solicited a Silk Road user to murder another user who was threatening to reveal the identities of thousands of users of the site.

As part of the investigation, authorities seized Bitcoins worth $3.6m from the operation estimated to have enabled around $1m in drug sales a month.

Virtual currencies like Bitcoin have enabled anonymous online marketplaces like Silk Road.

Despite the secrecy that has surrounded Silk Road, authorities were able to track down Ulbricht through operation security errors on his part.

Robert Hansen, technical evangelist at WhiteHat Security said Ulbricht combined many online actions with private actions and gave away many signals that led the federal authorities to figure out who he was. 

“Tor itself is very difficult to break; however, given that the authorities knew who he was - due to a customs bust involving counterfeit identification documents - combined with his online personas and the fact that Google and Comcast comply with requests to give IP information of their users, it was relatively straight forward to decloak him,” he said.

Raj Samani, CTO of McAfee Europe said that much like e-gold, and Liberty Reserve - two virtual currencies used by criminals for money laundering purposes - there is no shortage of providers willing to fill the gap left by those that are shutdown by law enforcement.   

“However, this case does demonstrate that the long arm of the law does reach into the darkest parts of the Internet,” he said.

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