Online Drug Marketplace Silk Road Gets Raided: FBI Seizes Millions
In one of the biggest online raids in history, Silk Road—an online marketplace that sold drugs (including heroin and cocaine) in a part of the web known as the “Deep Web”—has finally met its demise. Earlier this week, the FBI arrested the website’s alleged proprieter, 29 year-old Ross Williams Ulbricht, who was formerly known only as “Dread Pirates Roberts” (a pseudonym pulled from the film “Princess Bride”).
Ulbricht will appear in San Francisco federal court this morning. He is being charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.
With the arrest comes a record-breaking seize: the FBI was able to retrieve $3.6 million in bitcoin—the largest digital currency seizure.
According to the criminal complaint:
“…Silk Road has emerged as the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today. The site has sought to make conducting illegal transactions on the Internet as easy and frictionless as shopping online at mainstream e-commerce websites. The Government’s investigation has revealed that, during its two-and-a-half years of operation, Silk Road has been used by several thousand drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to well over 100,000 buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars deriving from these unlawful transactions.”
The complaint also stated that the website garnered over 9.5 billion in bitcoins and collected a commision of those sales, equating to about $1.2 billion in sales and $80 million in commision.
In addition to his conspiracy complaints, he is also being charged for being involved in a “murder-for-hire” scheme. Allegedly, he went to great lengths to protect Silk Road. According to documents, a Canadian Silk Road user attempted to blackmail Ulbricht for money by threatening to release the identities of thousands of the site’s users and Ulbricht took matters into his own hands by contacting a hit man.
Although selling drugs was the primary money-maker, Silk Road also sold hacking tools and various tutorials, such as “22 different methods” for hacking ATMS; a “HUGE Blackmarket Contact List”; information on hitmen; how to get counterfeit money; and how to get anonymous bank account numbers.
The FBI had been hot on the trail’s of Silk Road since its 2011 inception, but the search wasn’t easy. Domains in the Deep Web are notoriously difficult to track because they aren’t indexed by search engines—therefore not a part of the “Surface Web”— and cannot be accessed via standard browsers, such as Chrome or Safari. According to the Journal of Electronic Publishing, the Deep Web is significantly larger than the Surface Web—by more than 400 times. A big help in discovering the person behind Silk Road was tracking some of the earliest forums that publicized the website.
According to the Journal, “On average, deep Web sites receive fifty per cent greater monthly traffic than surface sites and are more highly linked to than surface sites; however, the typical (median) deep Web site is not well known to the Internet-searching public.”
Silk Road was only available via a browser called “Tor,” which conceals the IP addresses of computers on the network by wrapping every piece of communication in layers of encryption that are virtually impossible to decode.
One of the most intersting facts, though, is that Ulbricht was just a student of the University of Pennsylvania not that long ago—from 2006 to 2010. Prior to that, he attended the University of Texas as a physics student. In his LinkedIn profile, he describes himself as an “investment advisor and entrepreneur.” In his summary, he stated that “the most widespread and systematic use of force is amongst institutions and governments” and added that he wanted to give people a “firsthand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systematic use of force.”
It is unclear what the government intends to do with the digital currency at this point.
But as with all things, there’s always another alternative. A newer website offering very similar services to Silk Road, called Atlantis, is also on the Tor network.
The criminal complaint can be read below:
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