United States Attorney’s Office – 1/Ross Ulbricht – 0

Ross Ulbricht, 30, was found guilty by a Manhattan federal jury on all seven counts in the indictment he was charged.  He was convicted as the mastermind behind the original version of the Tor Hidden Service known as the Silk Road. The pundits have already begun to take apart the prosecution’s case saying it was unfair. The maligning of Judge Forrest’s handling of the case before and during the trial has begun in earnest. Even Ulbricht’s attorney, Joshua Dratel, is being questioned publically for his apparent lack of a real defense.  Some explaining he simply set the stage for the inevitable appeal.

silk_road01 Guilty

So what happens next?  Well Ross still has a pending indictment for the murder-for-hire plot in the Maryland District. Whether or not he will go to trial on that charge is unknown at this time. But, a betting man might consider that will be a slam dunk too based on the evidence presented in New York.

So how was Ross convicted when he wasn’t guilty according to his defense? What I have said before is exactly what the U.S. Attorney’s office presented; they put on a typical drug trial. Ross Ulbricht was convicted because of the drug case not because of his inventive method of using Tor as a “Social Experiment”. The Tor Hidden Service was only the vehicle by which the drug conspiracy was conducted. The Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Serrin Turner put the pieces together one by one and connected the face of Ross Ulbricht to the online persona Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR). They moved the evidence collected from the real world through the medium of communication, which just happened to be Tor. The AUSA used cooperating witnesses to explain the drug trade and like in any good drug trial followed the money straight back to Ross Ulbricht. Never mind that the money was in what the jury probably thought was some obscure online money trading system. Money for drugs is just that, money for drugs.  Ross Ulbricht is now, not just a famous drug King pin, but a convicted one.

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Silk Road 2.0: A Cheap Imitation of the Original

Last week it was announced that law enforcement had again taken down illegal Tor markets. Kudos to law enforcement on their apparent success! Although, they took down several such online market places, the one that caught everyone’s attention was Silk Road 2.0, the heir apparent to the original, shut down a little over a year ago. But has anyone really compared the original Silk Road to 2.0? It appears that 2.0 is a cheap knock off or imitation.

The Original

The first Silk Road was in operation from approximately February 2011 to October 2013, roughly 32 months. It reportedly had total sales of about $1.2 billion, earning $80 million in commissions. It also had over 13,000 in drug listings. When it was initially shut down, 26,000 Bitcoins (BTC) were seized from Silk Road accounts, worth approximately $3.6 million at the time. However, there was also 144,000 BTC, or about $28 million, seized from the purported mastermind. We have little information that it was every hacked, at least to any great extent. We have no information to date its fall was due to an undercover agent working on the inside.

Silk Road 2.0

Silk Road 2.0, operated from about November 2013 to October 2014, roughly about 12 months. One particular month’s sales were noted at $8 million. At a 5% commission, this earned the illegal business about $400,000. However, we can’t say they averaged $8 million a month. In fact, shortly after Silk Road 2.0 start-up it was hacked, losing about $1.5 million in BTC. It reportedly had drug listings of about 14,024. We have information that only about $1 million has been seized at the present time. Finally, the complaint reflects that early on an undercover agent was on board, working with the supposedly more “secure” management team.

Looking at longevity, total sales, and amount seized Silk Road 2.0 pales in comparison to the original. The only area Silk Road 2.0 appears to exceeded the original in was total drug listings. However, more listings did not translate into more money. To be fair to Silk Road 2.0, they clearly had more competition than the original. But I think that success is all negated when one considers they were hacked and had an undercover agent working on the inside.

Now we have news that Silk Road 3.0 has started up. Maybe someone should point out to the new Dread Pirate Roberts that this franchise appears to be a dead end. You can’t spend all those earned BTC commissions very well in prison, particularly if they end up being seized. One thing I would point out though, which kind of sends chills up my spine. Both Silk Road and 2.0, were not run by career drug dealers. They were run by tech savvy individuals, with no brick and mortar drug dealing expertise. With the kind of money being made it will not be long, if it hasn’t happened already, that a traditional drug dealer or gang will decide to go “high tech” into Tor’s marketplace. When that happens, this so called “safe” online market place will become a lot more dangerous for those involved. On that thought, I left a cigar lit somewhere.

Additional Reading

More Than 400 .Onion Addresses, Including Dozens of ‘Dark Market’ Sites, Targeted as Part of Global Enforcement Action on Tor Network

Operator of Silk Road 2.0 Website Charged in Manhattan Federal Court

Original Silk Road Complaint

Silk 2.0 Complaint

Silk Road 3.0 Opens for Business

The FBI’s Plan For The Millions Worth Of Bitcoins Seized From Silk Road

FBI 2 – Silk Road 0

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Its early in the reporting, but the FBI has announced that they have arrested the new mastermind behind Silk Road 2.0, a BLAKE BENTHALL, a/k/a “Defcon,”. The early reports online are also stating that other sites including Cloud 9, Cannabis Roads Forums and Hydra have been taken down also. The FBI and Homeland Security have been busy. The great part of this, according to the reports, is that the undercover investigator had infiltrated Benthall’s organization and had early on had access to the administrative side of the website.

I am sure there will be more to follow on this case. If you are interested in the escapades of those behind the original Silk Road and the investigation you should check out  Deep Web the Movie.  Author, and digital forensic expert, Todd G. Shipley is working with the production staff on the movie.

Updating Correction Agencies on Bitcoins, Tor and Silk Road

I have been a bit busy lately writing pieces for two different correction websites. In Back to Tor, Silk Road and Bitcoins I revisit the “Dark Web” for corrections and discuss a recent study that found 18% of American drug users had used Silk Road “products. In Bitcoins behind bars: Is it possible?, I explore the possibility that inmates could adopt bitcoins or some other cryptocurrency to conduct illegal enterprises from behind prison walls. Please check them out!

Former Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, USSS Loves Our Book!

“This book offers the most comprehensive, and understandable account of cybercrime currently available to all different skill levels of investigators. It is suitable for novices and instructors, across the full spectrum of digital investigations and will appeal to both advanced and new criminal investigators. It will no doubt become a must have text for any law enforcement or corporate investigator’s investigative library.” (Full Foreword Below)

Larry D. Johnson, Current CEO at Castleworth Global LLC, Former Chief Security Officer at Genworth Financial and Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Investigative Division, USSS, Retired.

Foreword