Posts Tagged: Dread Pirate Roberts

Nov 14

Feds Arrest Alleged ‘Silk Road 2’ Admin, Seize Servers

Federal prosecutors in New York today announced the arrest and charging of a San Francisco man they say ran the online drug bazaar and black market known as Silk Road 2.0. In conjunction with the arrest, U.S. and European authorities have jointly seized control over the servers that hosted Silk Road 2.0 marketplace.

The home page of the Silk Road 2.0 market has been replaced with this message indicating the community's Web servers were seized by authorities.

The home page of the Silk Road 2.0 market has been replaced with this message indicating the community’s Web servers were seized by authorities.

On Wednesday, agents with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security arrested 26-year-old Blake Benthall, a.k.a. “Defcon,” in San Francisco, charging him with drug trafficking, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and money laundering, among other alleged crimes.

Benthall’s LinkedIn profile says he is a native of Houston, Texas and was a programmer and “construction worker” at Codespike, a company he apparently founded using another company, Benthall Group, Inc. Benthall’s LinkedIn and Facebook profiles both state that he was a software engineer at Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), although this could not be immediately confirmed. Benthall describes himself on Twitter as a “rocket scientist” and a “bitcoin dreamer.”

Blake Benthall's public profile page at

Blake Benthall’s public profile page at

Benthall’s arrest comes approximately a year after the launch of Silk Road 2.0, which came online less than a month after federal agents shut down the original Silk Road community and arrested its alleged proprietor — Ross William Ulbricht, a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Ulbricht is currently fighting similar charges, and made a final pre-trial appearance in a New York court earlier this week.

According to federal prosecutors, since about December 2013, Benthall has secretly owned and operated Silk Road 2.0, which the government describes as “one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and widely used criminal marketplaces on the Internet today.” Like its predecessor, Silk Road 2.0 operated on the “Tor” network, a special network of computers on the Internet, distributed around the world, designed to conceal the true IP addresses of the computers on the network and thereby the identities of the network’s users.

“Since its launch in November 2013, Silk Road 2.0 has been used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to buyers throughout the world, as well as to launder millions of dollars generated by these unlawful transactions,”reads a statement released today by Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “As of September 2014, Silk Road 2.0 was generating sales of at least approximately $8 million per month and had approximately 150,000 active users.”

Benthall's profile on Github.

Benthall’s profile on Github.

The complaint against Benthall claims that by October 17, 2014, Silk Road 2.0 had over 13,000 listings for controlled substances, including, among others, 1,783 listings for “Psychedelics,” 1,697 listings for “Ecstasy,” 1,707 listings for “Cannabis,” and 379 listings for “Opioids.” Apart from the drugs, Silk Road 2.0 also openly advertised fraudulent identification documents and computer-hacking tools and services. The government alleges that in October 2014, the Silk Road 2.0 was generating at least approximately $8 million in monthly sales and at least $400,000 in monthly commissions.

The complaint describes how federal agents infiltrated Silk Road 2.0 from the very start, after an undercover agent working for Homeland Security investigators managed to infiltrate the support staff involved in the administration of the Silk Road 2.0 website.

“On or about October 7, 2013, the HSI-UC [the Homeland Security Investigations undercover agent] was invited to join a newly created discussion forum on the Tor network, concerning the potential creation of a replacement for the Silk Road 1.0 website,” the complaint recounts. “The next day, on or about October 8, 2013, the persons operating the forum gave the HSI‐UC moderator privileges, enabling the HSI‐UC to access areas of the forum available only to forum staff. The forum would later become the discussion forum associated with the Silk Road 2.0 website.”

The complaint also explains how the feds located and copied data from the Silk Road 2.0 servers. “In May 2014, the FBI identified a server located in a foreign country that was believed to be hosting the Silk Road 2.0 website at the time. On or about May 30, 2014, law enforcement personnel from that country imaged the Silk Road 2.0 Server and conducted a forensic analysis of it. Based on posts made to the SR2 Forum, complaining of service outages at the time the imaging was conducted, I know that once the Silk Road 2.0 server was taken offline for imaging, the Silk Road 2.0 website went offline as well, thus confirming that the server was used to host the Silk Road 2.0 website.” Continue reading →

Oct 14

Silk Road Lawyers Poke Holes in FBI’s Story

New court documents released this week by the U.S. government in its case against the alleged ringleader of the Silk Road online black market and drug bazaar suggest that the feds may have some ‘splaining to do.

The login prompt and CAPTCHA from the Silk Road home page.

The login prompt and CAPTCHA from the Silk Road home page.

Prior to its disconnection last year, the Silk Road was reachable only via Tor, software that protects users’ anonymity by bouncing their traffic between different servers and encrypting the traffic at every step of the way. Tor also lets anyone run a Web server without revealing the server’s true Internet address to the site’s users, and this was the very technology that the Silk road used to obscure its location.

Last month, the U.S. government released court records claiming that FBI investigators were able to divine the location of the hidden Silk Road servers because the community’s login page employed an anti-abuse CAPTCHA service that pulled content from the open Internet — thus leaking the site’s true Internet address.

But lawyers for alleged Silk Road captain Ross W. Ulbricht (a.k.a. the “Dread Pirate Roberts”) asked the court to compel prosecutors to prove their version of events.  And indeed, discovery documents reluctantly released by the government this week appear to poke serious holes in the FBI’s story.

Continue reading →

Sep 14

Dread Pirate Sunk By Leaky CAPTCHA

Ever since October 2013, when the FBI took down the online black market and drug bazaar known as the Silk Road, privacy activists and security experts have traded conspiracy theories about how the U.S. government managed to discover the geographic location of the Silk Road Web servers. Those systems were supposed to be obscured behind the anonymity service Tor, but as court documents released Friday explain, that wasn’t entirely true: Turns out, the login page for the Silk Road employed an anti-abuse CAPTCHA service that pulled content from the open Internet, thus leaking the site’s true location.

leakyshipTor helps users disguise their identity by bouncing their traffic between different Tor servers, and by encrypting that traffic at every hop along the way. The Silk Road, like many sites that host illicit activity, relied on a feature of Tor known as “hidden services.” This feature allows anyone to offer a Web server without revealing the true Internet address to the site’s users.

That is, if you do it correctly, which involves making sure you aren’t mixing content from the regular open Internet into the fabric of a site protected by Tor. But according to federal investigators,  Ross W. Ulbricht — a.k.a. the “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the 30-year-old arrested last year and charged with running the Silk Road — made this exact mistake. Continue reading →

Nov 13

No Bail for Alleged Silk Road Mastermind

A federal judge has denied bail for Ross Ulbricht, the 29-year-old man arrested last month on suspicion of running the Silk Road, an online black market that offered everything from drugs and guns to computer hackers and hitmen for hire.

The decision came after federal prosecutors in New York dumped a virtual truckload of additional incriminating evidence supporting charges that Ulbricht was the infamous Silk Road administrator known as the “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR), and that he was indeed a strong flight risk. To top it off, the government also now alleges that Ulbricht orchestrated and paid for murder-for-hire schemes targeting six individuals (until today, Ulbricht was accused of plotting just two of these executions).

Fraudulent identity documents allegedly ordered by Ulbricht.

Fraudulent identity documents allegedly ordered by Ulbricht.

The documents released today indicate that Ulbricht was a likely flight risk; they allege that prior to his arrest, Ulbricht had researched how to buy a citizenship in Dominica. The government said that the laptop seized from Ulbricht contained reference guides for obtaining “economic citizenship” in other countries. “In particular, the computer contained an application completed by Ulbricht for citizenship in Dominica, along with reference materials explaining that Dominica’s ‘economic citizenship’ program offers ‘instant’ citizenship in exchange for a one-time ‘$75,000 donation’ to the country’s government,'”, the government’s bail submission (PDF) notes. A copy of the application for citizenship in Dominica allegedly found on Ulbricht’s laptop is here (PDF).

In addition, prosecutors unveiled a photo showing the assortment of fake IDs that Ulbricht had allegedly ordered off the Silk Road (see image above), which included identity documents bearing his picture and various pseudonyms in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among other places.

According to the Justice Department, evidence from Ulbricht’s computer also shows that he had contemplated and prepared for a life on the run.

“For example, one file found on the computer, labeled ’emergency,’ contains a list of apparent to-do items in the event that Ulbricht learned that law enforcement was closing in on him. It reads as follows:

encrypt and backup important files on laptop to memory stick:
destroy laptop hard drive and hide/dispose
destroy phone and hide/dispose
Hide memory stick
get new laptop
go to end of train
find place to live on craigslist for cash
create new identity (name, backstory)”

The prosecution also released several screenshots of Ulbricht’s computer as it was found when he was arrested at a San Francisco public library. According to investigators, Ulbricht was logged in to the Silk Road and was administering the site when he was apprehended, as indicated by this screenshot, which shows a Silk Road page titled “mastermind.” The government says this page provided an overview of transactions and money moving through the site:


Another screen shot shows the Silk Road “support” page as found logged in on the computer seized from Ulbricht:


Continue reading →

Oct 13

Feds Arrest Alleged Top Silk Road Drug Seller

Federal authorities last week arrested a Washington state man accused of being one of the most active and sought-after drug dealers on the online black market known as the “Silk Road.” Meanwhile, new details about the recent coordinated takedown of the Silk Road became public, as other former buyers and sellers on the fraud bazaar pondered who might be next and whether competing online drug markets will move in to fill the void.

NOD's feedback from Silk Road buyers, according to the government.

NOD’s feedback from Silk Road buyers, according to the government.

A complaint unsealed Oct. 2 by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle alleges that Steven Lloyd Sadler, 40, of Bellevue, Wash., used the nickname “NOD” on the Silk Road, and was among the “top one percent of sellers” on the Silk Road, selling high-quality cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine in small, individual-use amounts to hundreds of buyers around the world.

Investigators with the FBI and U.S. Post Office inspectors say they tracked dozens of packages containing drugs allegedly shipped by Sadler and a woman who was living with him at the time of his arrest. Authorities tied Sadler to the Silk Road after intercepting a package of cocaine and heroin destined for an Alaskan resident. That resident agreed to cooperate with authorities in the hopes of reducing his own sentence, and said he’d purchased the drugs from NOD via the Silk Road.

Agents in Seattle sought and were granted permission to place GPS tracking devices on Sadler’s car and that of his roommate, Jenna White, also charged in this case. Investigators allege that the tracking showed the two traveled to at least 38 post offices in the Seattle area during the surveillance period.

Interestingly, the investigators used the feedback on NOD’s Silk Road seller profile to get a sense of the volume of drugs he sold. Much like eBay sellers, merchants on the Silk Road are evaluated by previous buyers, who are encouraged to leave feedback about the quality of the seller’s goods and services. According to the government, NOD had 1,400 reviews for individual sales/purchases of small amounts of drugs, including: 2,269.5 grams of cocaine, 593 grams of heroin and 105 grams of meth. The complaint notes that these amounts don’t count sales going back more than five months prior to the investigation, when NOD first created his Silk Road vendor account.

Cryptome has published a copy of the complaint (PDF) against Sadler. A copy of Sadler’s case docket is here. NOD’s reputation on the Silk Road also was discussed for several months on this Reddit thread.

Many readers of last week’s story on the Silk Road takedown have been asking what is known about the locations of the Silk Road servers that were copied by the FBI. It’s still unclear how agents gained access to those servers, but a civil forfeiture complaint released by the Justice Department shows that they were aware of five, geographically dispersed servers that were supporting the Silk Road, either by directly hosting the site and/or hosting the Bitcoin wallets that the Silk Road maintains for buyers and sellers.

Two of those servers were located in Iceland, one in Latvia, another in Romania, and apparently one in the United States. See the map above.

Continue reading →

Oct 13

Feds Take Down Online Fraud Bazaar ‘Silk Road’, Arrest Alleged Mastermind

Defendant Charged With Drug Trafficking, Hacking, Money Laundering

Prosecutors in New York today said that federal agencies have taken over the Silk Road, a sprawling underground Web site that has earned infamy as the “eBay of drugs.” On Tuesday, federal agents in San Francisco arrested the Silk Road’s alleged mastermind. Prosecutors say 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, a.k.a “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR), will be charged with a range of criminal violations, including conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, and money laundering.

A screen shot of the Silk Road Web site, taken Oct. 23, 2013.

A screen shot of the Silk Road Web site, taken Oct. 2, 2013.

The Silk Road is an online black market that as late as last month was hosting nearly 13,000 sales listings for controlled substances, including marijuana, LSD, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy. Much like eBay sellers, merchants on the Silk Road are evaluated by previous buyers, who are encouraged to leave feedback about the quality of the seller’s goods and services.

The Silk Road is not available via the regular Internet. Rather, it is only reachable via the Tor network, an anonymity network that bounces its users communications across a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world.

That is, it was until this week, when FBI agents arrested its alleged proprietor and seized the Web servers running the site. The feds also replaced the Silk Road’s home page with a message saying that the site had been seized by the FBI, Homeland Security Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to a complaint unsealed this week, Ulbricht alone controlled the massive profits generated from the operation of the business. The government alleges that Ulbricht also controlled and oversaw all aspects of the Silk Road, including: the maintenance of the computer infrastructure and programming code underlying the Silk Road Web site; the determination of vendor and customer policies; decisions about what could be sold on the site; and managing a small staff of online administrators who assisted with the day-to-day operations.

The Silk Road didn’t just sell drugs. For example, the complaint identifies 801 for-sale listings under “digital goods,” which included banking Trojans, pirated content, and hacked accounts at Netflix and Amazon. The “forgeries” section of the Silk Road featured 169 ads from vendors of fake driver’s licenses, passports, Social Security cards, utility bills, credit card statements, car insurance records, and other forms of identity documents.

An ad for heroin on the Silk Road. Notice this seller has 97 feedback points.

An ad for heroin on the Silk Road. Notice this seller has 97 feedback points.

Another popular section of the Silk Road included 159 listings for generic “Services,” mostly those listed by computer hackers offering such services as hijacking Twitter and Facebook accounts of the customer’s choosing. Other classified ads promised the sale of anonymous bank accounts, counterfeit bills, firearms and ammunition, and even hitmen for hire.

FBI investigators said that on or about March 29, 2013, Ulbricht contacted a Silk Road seller “Redandwhite” to see about hiring him to to take out another Silk Road user — someone going by the nickname “FriendlyChemist” — who was threatening to release the identities of thousands of users of the site.

From the government’s complaint: “Asked what sort of problem FriendlyChemist was causing him, DPR responded in a message dated March 30, 2013, ‘[H]e is threatening to expose the identities of thousands of my clients that he was able to acquire….[T]his kind of behavior is unforgivable to me. Especially here on Silk Road, anonymity is sacrosanct.'” As to the murder-for-hire job he was soliciting, DPR commented that “[i]t doesn’t have to be clean.”

Later that same day, redandwhite sent DPR a message quoting him a price of $150,000 to $300,000, “depending on how you want it done, ‘clean’ or ‘non-clean’.

On March 31, DPR began haggling over the price, responding: “Don’t want to be a pain here, but the price seems high. Not long ago, I had a clean hit done for $80k. Are the prices you quoted the best you can do? I would like this done asap as he is talking about releasing the info on Monday.”

DPR, allegedly using the nickname "altoid" seeks to hire a tech expert for the Silk Road via

DPR, allegedly using the nickname “altoid” seeks to hire a tech expert for the Silk Road via

According to investigators, the two ultimately settle on a price of $150,000, and that Ulbricht paid for the transaction using Bitcoins — an anonymous virtual currency — sending the would-be hit man 1,670 bitcoins for the arranged hit. Bitcoin currency rates fluctuate quite a bit from day to day, but historic sites that track Bitcoin rates show that one bitcoin around that date in late March 2013 was worth about USD $90, meaning investigators believe Ulbricht paid approximately $150,300 for the hit.

The government’s complaint states that the hit wasn’t carried out, but it also doesn’t seem that FriendlyChemist was the source of investigators’ break in this case. That would come on July 23, 2013, when investigators gained access to a Silk Road server and made a complete copy of the data on the machine.

Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) and at University of California San Diego, said the information contained on the server seized by investigators indicates that Ulbricht/Dread Pirate Roberts routinely failed to heed his own advice to fellow Silk Road users: Prominent on the Silk Road site were links to tutorials DPR penned which laid out the technologies and techniques that users should adopt if they want to keep off the radar of federal investigators.

“This shows me that the head of the Silk Road wasn’t using [encryption] for all his communications, because [the government] wouldn’t have all of this information otherwise, unless of course he stored his encryption key on the server that was seized,” Weaver said. “Either [the government] got his encryption key off of this server or another server that they were able to access, or he wasn’t using encryption at all.”

The complaint also suggests that in June 2013, Ulbricht accessed a server used to control the Silk Road site from an Internet cafe that was 500 feet from the hotel he was staying at in San Francisco.

Continue reading →