The "Silk road" becomes a dead end road?08.11.2014 um 14:59
to be continued...
Update at 4:00 p.m. ET: At least two more sites were also seized. Read the full accounting of what we know about the operation so far.Source: http://www.wired.com/2014/11/feds-seize-silk-road-2/
A year after the Silk Road 2 came online promising to revive the Dark Web drug trade following its predecessor’s seizure by the FBI, the sequel has suffered the same fate.
On Thursday international law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and Europol took down the Silk Road 2 and arrested its alleged operator 26-year-old Blake Benthall in San Francisco. Benthall, who is accused of running the new Silk Road under the handle “Defcon,” has been charged with narcotics trafficking, as well as conspiracy charges related to money laundering, computer hacking, and trafficking in fraudulent identification documents. The criminal complaint against him alleges that the Silk Road 2 sold hundreds of kilograms of drugs of every description to hundreds of thousands of buyers around the world, with bitcoin-based sales of more than $8 million per month at the time of its seizure.
“Let’s be clear – this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison,” Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara wrote in a statement to the press. “Those looking to follow in the footsteps of alleged cybercriminals should understand that we will return as many times as necessary to shut down noxious online criminal bazaars. We don’t get tired.”
Benthall appeared in a San Francisco court Thursday morning, where he had a bail hearing scheduled for tomorrow.
The criminal complaint against Benthall outlines how the Silk Road 2’s staff was infiltrated by at least one undercover law enforcement agent even before the site went online in November of last year. In May of this year, the FBI somehow pinpointed the foreign server that ran the Silk Road 2 despite its use of the anonymity software Tor to protect its location, and obtained records from the server’s hosting provider identifying Benthall.
The complaint also traces Benthall’s proceeds from his alleged management of the Silk Road 2’s bustling sales. Law enforcement officials found that he used a bitcoin exchange to cash out $273,626 between Silk Road 2’s creation in November of last year and October of this year. About $70,000 of that money went towards a down payment on a $127,000 Tesla Model S. Benthall is also accused of holding the pursestrings for the Silk Road 2’s employees: An undercover Homeland Security agent was paid $32,189 worth of bitcoin for work the agent did for the site.
Benthall’s arrest and the Silk Road 2 takedown follows news that Irish police arrested two drug trafficking suspects in Dublin and seized nearly $250,000 worth of drugs in an operation called “Onymous.” An FBI spokesperson confirmed that the arrests were connected, but declined to offer more information.
Benthall is accused of taking control of the Silk Road in December of last year, one month after it was created to replace the original Silk Road after the site’s October 2013 bust by the FBI. The Silk Road 2, like its predecessor, was initially run by a pseudonymous figure known as the Dread Pirate Roberts. But after the arrest of three alleged Silk Road 2 staffers who were also accused of working for the original Silk Road, the Dread Pirate Roberts disappeared, allegedly leaving Silk Road two in Benthall’s control.
“It has been over 24 hours since we last heard from our captain,” Benthall is accused of writing under his Defcon handle on December 22nd of last year. “As his second in command, I have very clear instructions as to what to do in this worst case scenario…I cannot elaborate on specifics, but the marketplace is safe in my hands until the Captain returns or his successor appears.”
Before his disappearance, Silk Road 2’s Dread Pirate Roberts declared that he had created a plan to relaunch the site in minutes in case of a law enforcement bust. The site’s code, he said, had been backed up to 500 locations in 17 countries. “If I go down, people publish their part of the puzzle and it is trivial to unlock the backups,” he wrote at the time. “Hydra effect on a massive scale.”
But the Feds’ latest seizure has also included the Silk Road 2’s forum site, which administrators, vendors and buyers used for communication and coordination. That disruption could make it far more difficult for both the site’s staff and its users to regroup and launch a “Silk Road 3.”
After it was launched in November of last year in the wake of the original Silk Road bust, the Silk Road 2 quickly rose to become the most popular drug site on the dark web. But it no longer held that title at the time of its takedown; The non-profit Digital Citizens Alliance found in September that the competing site Agora had surpassed the Silk Road 2 in total listings with more than 16,000 mostly-illegal products. Another site called Evolution now offers more than 15,000 listings, and has added thousands every month.
The Silk Road and the Silk Road 2 both claimed to be social experiments in free market libertarianism rather than mere money-making ventures. Both banned all contraband that wasn’t considered “victimless,” and their pseudonymous administrators posted lofty political statements. “You are writing history with every item purchased here,” read a message posted to the Silk Road 2’s homepage. “Silk Road is not a marketplace. Silk Road is a global revolt. The idea of freedom is immortal.”
Agora and Evolution, by contrast, have expressed no such political motives, and sell a larger breadth of merchandise. Both offer guns, for instance, and Evolution also sells stolen credit card information.
Meanwhile Ross Ulbricht, the 30-year-old man arrested in San Francisco in October 2013 and accused of being the administrator of the original Silk Road, faces trial in January of 2015.
Last week New York Senator Charles Schumer called for a renewed crackdown on the second generation of dark web drug sites. But he noted that the original Silk Road takedown had actually made the problem worse by splintering the industry into far more targets for law enforcement. “Unfortunately…there has been a significant number of copy-cat websites that also sell drugs illegally,” his press statement read, “which can be more difficult to target than one centralized marketplace.”
to be continued...