Posts Tagged: Silk Road

Mar 15

Dark Web’s ‘Evolution Market’ Vanishes

The Evolution Market, an online black market that sells everything contraband — from marijuana, heroin and ecstasy to stolen identities and malicious hacking services — appears to have vanished in the last 24 hours with little warning. Much to the chagrin of countless merchants hawking their wares in the underground market, the curators of the project have reportedly absconded with the community’s bitcoins — a stash that some Evolution merchants reckon is worth more than USD $12 million.

The "Fraud Related" section of the Evolution Market before it vanished.

The “Fraud Related” section of the Evolution Market before it vanished.

Reachable only via the Tor network (a.k.a. the “dark web” or “darknet”), Evolution Market quickly emerged as the go-to online bazaar for buyers and sellers of illicit goods following the shutdown of the infamous Silk Road marketplaces in 2013 and again late last year.

Evolution operates on an escrow system, allowing buyers and sellers to more confidently and successfully consummate sales of dodgy goods. But that means the market’s administrators at any given time have direct access to a tempting amount of virtually untraceable currency.

Denizens of the darkweb community say the moderators in charge of Evolution (known as just “Evo” by vendors and buyers alike) had in the past few days instituted long delays in responding to and processing withdrawal requests from the marketplace’s myriad vendors.

According to chatter from the Evolution discussion page on Reddit, Evo’s administrators — who go by the handles “Kimble” and “Verto” — initially blamed the delays on an unexpected influx of huge withdrawal requests that the community’s coffers could not satisfy all at once. The administrators assured anxious vendors that the issue would be resolved within 24 hours.

But before that 24 hours could elapse, the Evo community — its marketplace and user discussion forum — went offline. Now, volunteer moderators from those communities are posting to Reddit that the administrators have “exit scammed,” — essentially taken all the money and run. 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.

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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 →

Feb 14

Florida Targets High-Dollar Bitcoin Exchangers

State authorities in Florida on Thursday announced criminal charges targeting three men who allegedly ran illegal businesses moving large amounts of cash in and out of the Bitcoin virtual currency. Experts say this is likely the first case in which Bitcoin vendors have been prosecuted under state anti-money laundering laws, and that prosecutions like these could shut down one of the last remaining avenues for purchasing Bitcoins anonymously.

michaelhackfeedbackWorking in conjunction with the Miami Beach Police Department and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, undercover officers and agents from the U.S. Secret Service’s Miami Electronic Crimes Task Force contacted several individuals who were facilitating high-dollar transactions via, a site that helps match buyers and sellers of the virtual currency so that transactions can be completed face-to-face.

One of those contacted was a user nicknamed “Michelhack.” According to this user’s profile, Michelhack has at least 100 confirmed trades in the past six months involving more than 150 Bitcoins (more than $110,000 in today’s value), and a 99 percent positive “feedback” score on the marketplace. The undercover agent and Michelhack allegedly arranged a face-to-face meeting and exchanged a single Bitcoin for $1,000, a price that investigators say included an almost 17 percent conversion fee.

According to court documents, the agent told Michelhack that he wanted to use the Bitcoins to purchase stolen credit cards online. After that trust-building transaction, Michelhack allegedly agreed to handle a much larger deal: Converting $30,000 in cash into Bitcoins.

Investigators had little trouble tying that Michelhack identity to 30-year-old Michell Abner Espinoza of Miami Beach. Espinoza was arrested yesterday when he met with undercover investigators to finalize the transaction. Espinoza is charged with felony violations of Florida’s law against unlicensed money transmitters — which prohibits “currency or payment instruments exceeding $300 but less than $20,000 in any 12-month period” — and Florida’s anti-money laundering statutes, which prohibit the trade or business in currency of more than $10,000.

Police also conducted a search warrant on his residence with an order to seize computer systems and digital media. Also arrested Thursday and charged with violating both Florida laws is Pascal Reid, 29, a Canadian citizen who was living in Miramar, Fla. Allegedly operating as proy33 on, Reid was arrested while meeting with an undercover agent to finalize a deal to sell $30,000 worth of Bitcoins.

Documents obtained from the Florida state court system show that investigators believe Reid had 403 Bitcoins in his on-phone Bitcoin wallet alone — which at the time was the equivalent of approximately USD $316,000. Those same documents show that the undercover agent told Reid he wanted to use the Bitcoins to buy credit cards stolen in the Target breach.

Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) and at the University of California, Berkeley and keen follower of Bitcoin-related news, said he is unaware of another case in which state law has been used against a Bitcoin vendor. According to Weaver, the Florida case is significant because is among the last remaining places that Americans can use to purchase Bitcoins anonymously.

“The biggest problem that Bitcoin faces is actually self-imposed, because it’s always hard to buy Bitcoins,” Weaver said. “The reason is that Bitcoin transactions are irreversible, and therefore any purchase of Bitcoins must be made with something irreversible — namely cash. And that means you either have to wait several days for the wire transfer or bank transfer to go through, or if you want to buy them quickly you pay with cash through a site like” 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:


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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.

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Aug 13

Firefox Zero-Day Used in Child Porn Hunt?

A claimed zero-day vulnerability in Firefox 17 has some users of the latest Mozilla Firefox browser (Firefox 22) shrugging their shoulders. Indeed, for now it appears that this flaw is not a concern for regular, up-to-date Firefox end users. But several experts say the vulnerability was instead exposed and used in tandem with a recent U.S. law enforcement effort to discover the true Internet addresses of people believed to be browsing child porn sites via the Tor Browser — an online anonymity tool powered by Firefox 17.

Freedom Hosting's Wiki page on the Tor network's HiddenWiki page.

Freedom Hosting’s entry on the Tor network’s The Hidden Wiki page.

Tor software protects users by bouncing their communications across a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world. As the Tor homepage notes, it prevents anyone who might be watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets users access sites that are blocked by Internet censors.

The Tor Browser bundle also is the easiest way to find Web sites that do not want to be easily taken down, such as the Silk Road (a.k.a. the “eBay of hard drugs“) and sites peddling child pornography.

On Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013,, an Irish news outlet, reported that U.S. authorities were seeking the extradition of Eric Eoin Marques, a 28-year-old with Irish and American citizenship reportedly dubbed by the FBI as “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet.” According to the Independent, Marques was arrested on a Maryland warrant that includes charges of distributing and promoting child porn online.

The Tor Project’s blog now carries a post noting that at approximately midnight on August 4th “a large number of hidden service addresses disappeared from the Tor Network, sites that appear to have been tied to an organization called Freedom Hosting — a hosting service run on the Tor Network allegedly by Marques.

torHidden services can be used to run a variety of Web services that are not directly reachable from a normal Internet connection — from FTP and IRC servers to Web sites. As such, the Tor Network is a robust tool for journalists, whistleblowers, dissidents and others looking to publish information in a way that is not easily traced back to them.

“There are rumors that a hosting company for hidden services is suddenly offline and/or has been breached and infected with a javascript exploit,” writes “phobos,” a Tor Project blogger. Phobos notes that the person, or persons, who run Freedom Hosting are in no way affiliated or connected to The Tor Project, Inc., the organization coordinating the development of the Tor software and research, and continues:

“The current news indicates that someone has exploited the software behind Freedom Hosting. From what is known so far, the breach was used to configure the server in a way that it injects some sort of javascript exploit in the web pages delivered to users. This exploit is used to load a malware payload to infect user’s computers. The malware payload could be trying to exploit potential bugs in Firefox 17 ESR, on which our Tor Browser is based. We’re investigating these bugs and will fix them if we can.”

Even if the claimed vulnerability is limited to Firefox version 17, such a flaw would impact far more than just Tor bundle users. Mozilla says it has been notified of a potential security vulnerability in Firefox 17, which is currently the extended support release (ESR) version of Firefox. Last year, Mozilla began offering an annual ESR of Firefox for enterprises and others who didn’t want to have to keep up with the browser’s new rapid release cycle.

“We are actively investigating this information and we will provide additional information when it becomes available,” Michael Coates, director of security assurance at Mozilla, wrote in a brief blog post this evening.

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Jul 13

Mail from the (Velvet) Cybercrime Underground

Over the past six months, “fans” of this Web site and its author have shown their affection in some curious ways. One called in a phony hostage situation that resulted in a dozen heavily armed police surrounding my home. Another opened a $20,000 new line of credit in my name. Others sent more than $1,000 in bogus PayPal donations from hacked accounts. Still more admirers paid my cable bill for the next three years using stolen credit cards. Malware authors have even used my name and likeness to peddle their wares.

“Flycracker,” the administrator of crime forum, hatches plan to send drugs to my home.

“Flycracker,” the administrator of crime forum, hatches plan to send drugs to my home.

But the most recent attempt to embarrass and fluster this author easily takes the cake as the most elaborate: Earlier this month, the administrator of an exclusive cybercrime forum hatched and executed a plan to purchase heroin, have it mailed to my home, and then spoof a phone call from one of my neighbors alerting the local police. Thankfully, I had already established a presence on his forum and was able to monitor the scam in real time and alert my local police well in advance of the delivery.

This would-be smear campaign was the brainchild of a fraudster known variously online as “Fly,” “Flycracker,” and MUXACC1 (muxa is transliterated Russian for “муха” which means “fly”). Fly is the administrator of the fraud forum “thecc[dot]bz,” an exclusive and closely guarded Russian language board dedicated to financial fraud and identity theft.

On July 14, Flycracker posted a new  forum discussion thread titled, “Krebs Fund,” in which he laid out his plan: He’d created a bitcoin wallet for the exclusive purpose of accepting donations from other members. The goal: purchase heroin in my name and address from a seller on the Silk Road, an online black market that is only reachable via the Tor network.  In the screenshot pictured above, Flycracker says to fellow members:

“Guys, it became known recently that Brian Krebs is a heroin addict and he desperately needs the smack, so we have started the “Helping Brian Fund”, and shortly we will create a bitcoin wallet called “Drugs for Krebs” which we will use to buy him the purest heroin on the Silk Road.  My friends, his withdrawal is very bad, let’s join forces to help the guy! We will save Brian from the acute heroin withdrawal and the world will get slightly better!”

Together, forum members raised more than 2 bitcoins – currently equivalent to about USD $200. At first, Fly tried to purchase a gram of heroin from a Silk Road vendor named 10toes, an anonymous seller who had excellent and plentiful feedback from previous buyers as a purveyor of reliably good heroin appropriate for snorting or burning and inhaling (see screnshot below).

Flycracker discussing the purchase of a gram of heroin from Silk Road seller "10toes."

Flycracker discussing the purchase of a gram of heroin from Silk Road seller “10toes.”

For some reason, that transaction with 10toes fell through, and Flycracker turned to another Silk Road vendor — Maestro — from whom he purchased a dozen baggies of heroin of “HIGH and consistent quality,” to be delivered to my home in Northern Virginia earlier today. The purchase was made using a new Silk Road account named “briankrebs7,” and cost 1.6532 bitcoins (~USD $165).

Flycracker ultimately bought 10 small bags of smack from Silk Road seller "Maestro."

Flycracker ultimately bought 10 small bags of smack from Silk Road seller “Maestro.” The seller threw in two extra bags for free (turns out he actually threw in three extra bags).

In the screen shot below, Fly details the rest of his plan:

“12 sacks of heroin [the seller gives 2 free sacks for a 10-sacks order] are on the road, can anyone make a call [to the police] from neighbors, with a record? Seller said the package will be delivered after 3 days, on Tuesday. If anyone calls then please say that drugs are hidden well.”


Last week, I alerted the FBI about this scheme, and contacted a Fairfax County Police officer who came out and took an official report about it. The cop who took the report just shook his head incredulously, and kept saying he was trying to unplug himself from various accounts online with the ultimate goal of being “off the Internet and Google” by the time he retired. Before he left, the officer said he would make a notation on my report so that any officer dispatched to respond to complaints about drugs being delivered via mail to my home would prompted to review my report.


I never doubted Flycracker”s resolve for a minute, but I still wanted to verify his claims about having made the purchase. On that front I received assistance from Sara Meiklejohn, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego who’s been analyzing the role of bitcoin and anonymity on the Silk Road. Meiklejohn confirmed that the bitcoin wallet linked to in Fly’s forum thread was indeed used to deposit two bitcoins into a purse controlled by anonymous individuals who help manage commerce on the Silk Road.

Meiklejohn and fellow researcher Damon McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science at George Mason University, have been mapping out a network of bitcoin wallets that are used exclusively by the curators of the Silk Road. If you wish to transact with merchants on the Silk Road, you need to fund your account with bitcoins. The act of adding credits appears to be handled by a small number of bitcoin purses.

“All Silk Road purchases are handled internally by Silk Road, which means money trades hands from the Silk Road account of the buyer to the Silk Road account of the seller,”  explained Meiklejohn, author of the paper, A Fistful of Bitcoins: Characterizing Payments Among Men with No Names, to be released in October 2013 at the ACM Internet Measurement Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

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