By Thomas Scott
FBI shuts down the Silk Road, seizes over $3.6 million in Bitcoins, arrests owner
Imagine being able to buy virtually any drug anonymously, with a currency that is almost untraceable online.
Until a few days ago that pipe dream was a reality.
The service was known as the Silk Road. At its head was allegedly Ross William Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts” or DPR.
The online drug kingpin built an empire based on the anonymity provided by tools such as Tor, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and Bitcoins.
Tor, which at its outset stood for “the onion router,” is a computer application that encrypts a user’s Internet traffic. It then redirects it through relays that are run by volunteers around the world, making it difficult to track a single individual’s Internet traffic.
PGP is an application that encrypts one’s e-mail traffic.
Bitcoins are the anonymous and completely digital currency with which transactions were made on the Silk Road.
These three components provide the means to locate the Silk Road’s marketplace, communicate with other users and pay for their wares. Users could access the site using Tor at the URL silkroadvb5piz3r.onion.
Ulbricht was apprehended by the FBI in the Science Fiction section of the San Francisco Public Library according to a report by the Baltimore Sun.
Ulbricht has been charged in the states of Maryland and New York and has also appeared in Federal Court twice so far.
In Maryland, Ulbricht is accused of attempting to arrange two contract killings. One hit supposedly targeted a former associate whose loyalty was brought into question after he allegedly scammed users of the site and pilfered their Bitcoins.
The second assassination was supposedly intended for another individual who attempted to extort Ulbricht after hacking into one of the Silk Road’s servers and obtaining the personal information of thousands of users, according to a report by Forbes.
Ulbricht allegedly offered close to $150,000 for the killing according to Business Insider.
Fortunately for both targets of Ulbricht’s ire, it was an undercover agent at the other end of the line who was communicating with Ulbricht.
However, that was not Ulbricht’s fatal flaw.
According to CNN, Ulbricht posted his Gmail address online in an online forum, which allowed the FBI to establish a connection between Ulbricht and his alias the Dread Pirate Roberts.
It all started in January 2011, when Ulbricht posted on a magic mushroom forum referring to the site.
At that time, Ulbricht operated under the handle or alias “Altoid.”
Two days after that first post, Altoid made a second message board called “Bitcoin Talk” and again made allusions to the site.
In June 2011, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) requested that federal authorities take action to shut down the website.
However, the coup for investigators came when Altoid posted his e-mail address email@example.com in Bitcoin Talk.
From there, authorities were able to tie the Gmail account to an Internet café frequented by Ulbricht.
Ulbricht also vaguely referred to his line of work on his LinkedIn profile where he stated that he “want[ed] to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and ag[g]ression amongst mankind.”
Ulbricht also claimed that “most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments” and that “[t]he best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed.”
In his words, the Silk Road was “an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”
According to Forbes, Ulbricht also described the Silk Road “as a victimless libertarian experiment.”
Ulbricht was called “Josh” by his roommates.
According to a report by The Verge, one alleged roommate stated that Josh “was kind of vague about what he did for a living” and that his arrest “isn’t too surprising.”
One Union student, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims to have taken part in the online underworld of the Silk Road.
The student allegedly “bought weed, shrooms and even paraphenalia” but claims not to have “used the site too often,” having done “around seven transactions.”
The student went on to say that the Silk Road “was just a better alternative in terms of range of options” as well as the “quality of the products.”
The student continued, saying that the “price was an added benefit of the online marketplace.” The student went on to insist that the manner with which merchandise was mailed varied from vendor to vendor, but the packages were “always tightly sealed.”
While the Silk Road has been shut down, there are already alternative deep-web resources for international drug purchases. How long they will remain online remains to be known.