Ross Ulbricht faces life for Silk Road dark market conviction

Ross Ulbricht faces life in jail after being convicted of seven charges related to the Silk Road online illegal drugs dark market

The man accused of being the kingpin behind the Silk Road online illegal drugs dark market has been found guilty on all seven charges he was facing.

Ross Ulbricht faces up to life in jail after a New York jury found him guilty of charges including drug trafficking, criminal enterprise, aiding and abetting drug distribution, hacking and money laundering.

The convictions come despite Ulbricht’s strong denials of being the Silk Road mastermind known as Dread Pirate Roberts, and his defence lawyers argued he was framed for much of the site’s activity.

Defence lawyers said that while Ulbricht had started Silk Road, he had quit soon after creating it and then had been used as a scapegoat by the true owners of the illegal online drug market.

They argued that the real mastermind behind the darknet marketplace was Mark Karpelès, the founder of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox.

However, the prosecution produced evidence that included Ulbricht’s personal journals and his bitcoin wallet that all pointed to his guilt, reported The Guardian.

In October 2013, FBI agents arrested Ulbricht in a San Francisco public library while logged on to Silk Road administrator accounts after an intensive investigation by several law enforcement agencies.

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According to prosecutors, more than a million drug deals took place on Silk Road, earning Ulbricht about $18m in Bitcoins, reported the BBC.

US attorney Preet Bharara said the conviction sent a clear message that the “supposed anonymity of the dark web is not a protective shield from arrest and prosecution”.

But commentators have pointed out that Ulbricht’s arrest was not down to any technical capabilities in undermining the Tor free online anonymity software.

The software enables users to set up hidden services using a network of computers with several hops between hidden services administrators and users to maintain anonymity.

Commentators say the arrest was down to a sting operation after a long-term resource intensive investigation that included undercover agents infiltrating Silk Road to get close to Ulbricht and gain his confidence.

Some have raised concerns that the conviction of Ulbricht will serve only to make operators of dark markets more cautious, making it more difficult than ever before to entrap.

While some researchers have suggested there are around 100,000 hidden services running on the darknet, the real figure is between 10,000 and 15,000, according to Greg Jones, cyber investigator and director of Digital Assurance.

The bulk of those hidden services are person-to-person torrent tracking or "chat" services that do not carry any actual content, he told a recent NEDForum summit in London.

However, research carried out by Jones revealed around 12 “significant” dark markets and hundreds of smaller ones conducting business transactions worth around £20m a month, mainly using Bitcoins.

Ulbricht faces between 20 years to life in prison at his sentencing, which is scheduled for 15 May 2015.

In a separate trial in Baltimore that is still underway, Ulbricht faces charges that include attempted commission of a murder-for-hire.

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