Posts Tagged: Tor

Mar 16

Carders Park Piles of Cash at Joker’s Stash

A steady stream of card breaches at retailers, restaurants and hotels has flooded underground markets with a historic glut of stolen debit and credit card data. Today there are at least hundreds of sites online selling stolen account data, yet only a handful of them actively court bulk buyers and organized crime rings. Faced with a buyer’s market, these elite shops set themselves apart by focusing on loyalty programs, frequent-buyer discounts, money-back guarantees and just plain old good customer service.

An ad for new stolen cards on Joker's Stash.

An ad for new stolen cards on Joker’s Stash.

Today’s post examines the complex networking and marketing apparatus behind “Joker’s Stash,” a sprawling virtual hub of stolen card data that has served as the distribution point for accounts compromised in many of the retail card breaches first disclosed by KrebsOnSecurity over the past two years, including Hilton Hotels and Bebe Stores.

Since opening for business in early October 2014, Joker’s Stash has attracted dozens of customers who’ve spent five- and six-figures at the carding store. All customers are buying card data that will be turned into counterfeit cards and used to fraudulently purchase gift cards, electronics and other goods at big-box retailers like Target and Wal-Mart.

Unlike so many carding sites that mainly resell cards stolen by other hackers, Joker’s Stash claims that all of its cards are “exclusive, self-hacked dumps.”

“This mean – in our shop you can buy only our own stuff, and our stuff you can buy only in our shop – nowhere else,” Joker’s Stash explained on an introductory post on a carding forum in October 2014.

“Just don’t wanna provide the name of victim right here, and bro, this is only the begin[ning], we already made several other big breaches – a lot of stuff is coming, stay tuned, check the news!” the Joker went on, in response to established forum members who were hazing the new guy. He continued:

“I promise u – in few days u will completely change your mind and will buy only from me. I will add another one absolute virgin fresh new zero-day db with 100%+1 valid rate. Read latest news on – this new huge base will be available in few days only at Joker’s Stash.”

As a business, Joker’s Stash made good on its promise. It’s now one of the most bustling carding stores on the Internet, often adding hundreds of thousands of freshly stolen cards for sale each week.

A true offshore pirate’s haven, its home base is a domain name ending in “.sh” Dot-sh is the country code top level domain (ccTLD) assigned to the tiny volcanic, tropical island of Saint Helena, but anyone can register a domain ending in dot-sh. St. Helena is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) — the same time zone used by this carding Web site. However, it’s highly unlikely that any part of this fraud operation is in Saint Helena, a remote British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean that has a population of just over 4,000 inhabitants.

This fraud shop includes a built-in discount system for larger orders: 5 percent for customers who spend between $300-$500; 15 percent off for fraudsters spending between $1,000 and $2,500; and 30 percent off for customers who top up their bitcoin balances to the equivalent of $10,000 or more.

For its big-spender “partner” clients, Joker’s Stash assigns three custom domain names to each partner. After those partners log in, the different 3-word domains are displayed at the top of their site dashboard, and the user is encouraged to use only those three custom domains to access the carding shop in the future (see screenshot below). More on these three domains in a moment.

The dashboard for a Joker's Stash customer that has spent over $10,000 buying stolen credit cards from the site.

The dashboard for a Joker’s Stash customer who has spent over $10,000 buying stolen credit cards from the site. Click image to enlarge.


Customers pay for stolen cards using Bitcoin, a virtual currency. All sales are final, although some batches of stolen cards for sale at Joker’s Stash come with a replacement policy — a short window of time from minutes to a few hours, generally — in which buyers can request replacement cards for any that come back as declined during that replacement timeframe.

Like many other carding shops, Joker’s Stash also offers an a-la-carte card-checking option that customers can use an insurance policy when purchasing stolen cards. Such checking services usually rely on multiple legitimate, compromised credit card merchant accounts that can be used to round-robin process a small charge against each card the customer wishes to purchase to test whether the card is still valid. Customers receive an automatic credit to their shopping cart balances for any purchased cards that come back as declined when run through the site’s checking service.

This carding site also employs a unique rating system for clients, supposedly to prevent abuse of the service and to provide what the proprietors of this store call “a loyalty program for honest partners with proven partner’s record.” Continue reading →

Aug 15

Who Hacked Ashley Madison?, a site that helps married people cheat and whose slogan is “Life is Short, have an Affair,” recently put up a half million (Canadian) dollar bounty for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the Impact Team — the name chosen by the hacker(s) who recently leaked data on more than 30 million Ashley Madison users. Here is the first of likely several posts examining individuals who appear to be closely connected to this attack.

zu-launchpad-july-20It was just past midnight on July 20, a few hours after I’d published an exclusive story about hackers breaking into I was getting ready to turn in for the evening when I spotted a re-tweet from a Twitter user named Thadeus Zu (@deuszu) who’d just posted a link to the same cache of data that had been confidentially shared with me by the Impact Team via the contact form on my site just hours earlier: It was a link to the proprietary source code for Ashley Madison’s service.

Initially, that tweet startled me because I couldn’t find any other sites online that were actually linking to that source code cache. I began looking through his past tweets and noticed some interesting messages, but soon enough other news events took precedence and I forgot about the tweet.

I revisited Zu’s tweet stream again this week after watching a press conference held by the Toronto Police (where Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, is based). The Toronto cops mostly recapped the timeline of known events in the hack, but they did add one new wrinkle: They said Avid Life employees first learned about the breach on July 12 (seven days before my initial story) when they came into work, turned on their computers and saw a threatening message from the Impact Team accompanied by the anthem “Thunderstruck” by Australian rock band AC/DC playing in the background.

After writing up a piece on the bounty offer, I went back and downloaded all five years’ worth of tweets from Thadeus Zu, a massively prolific Twitter user who typically tweets hundreds if not thousands of messages per month. Zu’s early years on Twitter are a catalog of simple hacks — commandeering unsecured routers, wireless cameras and printers — as well as many, many Web site defacements.

On the defacement front, Zu focused heavily on government Web sites in Asia, Europe and the United States, and in several cases even taunted his targets. On Aug. 4, 2012, he tweeted to KPN-CERT, a computer security incident response team in the Netherlands, to alert the group that he’d hacked their site. “Next time, it will be Thunderstruck. #ACDC” Zu wrote.

The day before, he’d compromised the Web site for the Australian Parliament, taunting lawmakers there with the tweet: “Parliament of Australia Oi! Oi! Oi!….T.N.T. Dynamite! Listen to ACDC here.”

I began to get very curious about whether there were any signs on or before July 19, 2015 that Zu was tweeting about ACDC in relation to the Ashley Madison hack. Sure enough: At 9:40 a.m., July 19, 2015 — nearly 12 hours before I would first be contacted by the Impact Team — we can see Zu is feverishly tweeting to several people about setting up “replication servers” to “get the show started.” Can you spot what’s interesting in the tabs on his browser in the screenshot he tweeted that morning?

Twitter user ThadeusZu tweets about setting up replication servers. Note which Youtube video is playing on his screen.

Twitter user ThadeusZu tweets about setting up replication servers. Did you spot the Youtube video he’s playing when he took this screenshot?

Ten points if you noticed the tab showing that he’s listening to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

A week ago, the news media pounced on the Ashley Madison story once again, roughly 24 hours after the hackers made good on their threat to release the Ashley Madison user database. I went back and examined Zu’s tweet stream around that time and found he beat, and every other news media outlet by more than 24 hours with the Aug. 17 tweet, “Times up,” which linked to the Impact Team’s now infamous post listing the sites where anyone could download the stolen Ashley Madison user database.

ThadeusZu tweeted about the downloadable AshleyMadison data more than 24 hours before news outlets picked up on the cache.

ThadeusZu tweeted about the downloadable Ashley Madison data more than 24 hours before news outlets picked up on the cache.

Continue reading →

May 15

Recent Breaches a Boon to Extortionists

The recent breaches involving the leak of personal data on millions of customers at online hookup site Adult Friend Finder and mobile spyware maker mSpy give extortionists and blackmailers plenty of ammunition with which to ply their trade. And there is some evidence that ne’er-do-wells are actively trading this data and planning to abuse it for financial gain.

Within hours after data on tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of mSpy users leaked onto the Deep Web, miscreants on the “Hell” forum (reachable only via Tor) were busy extracting countless Apple iTunes usernames and passwords from the archive.

“Apple Id accounts you can use Tor to login perfectly safe! Good method so far use ‘Find My phone,'” wrote Ping, a moderator on the forum. “Wipe data and set a message that they been hacked and the only way to get their data back is to pay a ransom.”

"Hell" forum users discuss extorting mSpy users who had iTunes account credentials compromised in the breach.

“Hell” forum users discuss extorting mSpy users who had iTunes account credentials compromised in the breach.

Continue reading →

May 15

Mobile Spyware Maker mSpy Hacked, Customer Data Leaked

mSpy, the makers of a dubious software-as-a-service product that claims to help more than two million people spy on the mobile devices of their kids and partners, appears to have been massively hacked. Last week, a huge trove of data apparently stolen from the company’s servers was posted on the Deep Web, exposing countless emails, text messages, payment and location data on an undetermined number of mSpy “users.”

mSpy has not responded to multiple requests for comment left for the company over the past five days. KrebsOnSecurity learned of the apparent breach from an anonymous source who shared a link to a Web page that is only reachable via Tor, a technology that helps users hide their true Internet address and allows users to host Web sites that are extremely difficult to get taken down.

The Tor-based Web site hosting content stolen from mobile devices running Mspy.

The Tor-based Web site hosting content stolen from mobile devices running mSpy.

The Tor-based site hosts several hundred gigabytes worth of data taken from mobile devices running mSpy’s products, including some four million events logged by the software. The message left by the unknown hackers who’ve claimed responsibility for this intrusion suggests that the data dump includes information on more than 400,000 users, including Apple IDs and passwords, tracking data, and payment details on some 145,000 successful transactions.

The exact number of mSpy users compromised could not be confirmed, but one thing is clear: There is a crazy amount of personal and sensitive data in this cache, including photos, calendar data, corporate email threads, and very private conversations. Also included in the data dump are thousands of support request emails from people around the world who paid between $8.33 to as much as $799 for a variety of subscriptions to mSpy’s surveillance software.

Mspy users can track Android and iPhone users, snoop on apps like Snapchat and Skype, and keep a record of every key the user types.

mSspy users can track the exact location of Android and iPhone users, snoop on apps like Snapchat and Skype, and keep a record of every word the user types.

It’s unclear exactly where mSpy is based; the company’s Web site suggests it has offices in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, although the firm does not appear to list an official physical address. However, according to historic Web site registration records, the company is tied to a now-defunct firm called MTechnology LTD out of the United Kingdom. Continue reading →

Mar 15

Kreditech Investigates Insider Breach

Kreditech, a consumer finance startup that specializes in lending to “unbanked” consumers with little or no credit rating, is investigating a data breach that came to light after malicious hackers posted thousands of applicants’ personal and financial records online.

A screen shot of the Tor site that links to the documents stolen from Kreditech.

A screen shot of the Tor site that links to the documents stolen from Kreditech.

Earlier this month, a source pointed KrebsOnSecurity to a Web site reachable only via Tor, a software package that directs Internet traffic through a free, global network of relays. That page, pictured in screen shot to the right, included links to countless documents, scanned passports, drivers licenses, national IDs and credit agreements apparently taken from Kreditech’s servers.

The site announced that a group of hackers calling itself “A4” put the information online after finding “hundreds of gigabytes” of Kreditech’s documents, including what appear to be configuration files from the company’s Intranet and internal servers.

“The company, getting multimillion investments, probably decided to spend them for anything but security of their clients’ data,” the hacker group wrote. “As explain by a member of A4, not that the company’s security is at a low level, it is absent as such.All data to which the group А4 got access will be put online in open access although its curb price is rather considerable.”

Anna Friedrich, head of communications at the Hamburg, Germany-based lender, acknowledged that the company had an “isolated internal security incident” in November 2014, and that Hamburg police are investigating.

Friedrich said Kreditech believes the data was stolen not from customers but only from credit applicants. She added that Kreditech believes the information was leaked from within by someone who worked at the company — although she declined to say whether the suspect was a current or former employee.

“There is no access to any customer data,” Friedrich said. “This incident stemmed from a form on our Web site that was stored data in a caching system that deleted data every few days. What happened was that a subset of application data was affected. We are collaborating with the police, but unfortunately there is no more further information that I have to share. ”

Corey Wells, the 19-year-old security researcher from West Virginia who alerted this author to the compromise, said he discovered the breach after building a crawler to identify and index Web sites on the Tor network.

The hacker group didn’t say how it obtained the documents. Wells said the leaked data includes raw logs from a system that appears to have been running MongoDB, a cross-platform document-oriented database. Those logs include a date and time stamp of Aug. 19. 2014, suggesting the breach may have started seven months ago. Continue reading →

Jan 15

Lizard Stresser Runs on Hacked Home Routers

The online attack service launched late last year by the same criminals who knocked Sony and Microsoft’s gaming networks offline over the holidays is powered mostly by thousands of hacked home Internet routers, has discovered.

Just days after the attacks on Sony and Microsoft, a group of young hoodlums calling themselves the Lizard Squad took responsibility for the attack and announced the whole thing was merely an elaborate commercial for their new “booter” or “stresser” site — a service designed to help paying customers knock virtually any site or person offline for hours or days at a time. As it turns out, that service draws on Internet bandwidth from hacked home Internet routers around the globe that are protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords.

The Lizard Stresser's add-on plans. In case it wasn't clear, this service is *not* sponsored by Brian Krebs.

The Lizard Stresser’s add-on plans. Despite this site’s claims, it is *not* sponsored by this author.

In the first few days of 2015, KrebsOnSecurity was taken offline by a series of large and sustained denial-of-service attacks apparently orchestrated by the Lizard Squad. As I noted in a previous story, the booter service — lizardstresser[dot]su — is hosted at an Internet provider in Bosnia that is home to a large number of malicious and hostile sites.

That provider happens to be on the same “bulletproof” hosting network advertised by “sp3c1alist,” the administrator of the cybercrime forum Darkode. Until a few days ago, Darkode and LizardStresser shared the same Internet address. Interestingly, one of the core members of the Lizard Squad is an individual who goes by the nickname “Sp3c.”

On Jan. 4, KrebsOnSecurity discovered the location of the malware that powers the botnet. Hard-coded inside of that malware was the location of the LizardStresser botnet controller, which happens to be situated in the same small swath Internet address space occupied by the LizardStresser Web site (217.71.50.x)

The malicious code that converts vulnerable systems into stresser bots is a variation on a piece of rather crude malware first documented in November by Russian security firm Dr. Web, but the malware itself appears to date back to early 2014 (Google’s Chrome browser should auto-translate that page; for others, a Google-translated copy of the Dr. Web writeup is here).

As we can see in that writeup, in addition to turning the infected host into attack zombies, the malicious code uses the infected system to scan the Internet for additional devices that also allow access via factory default credentials, such as “admin/admin,” or “root/12345”. In this way, each infected host is constantly trying to spread the infection to new home routers and other devices accepting incoming connections (via telnet) with default credentials.

The botnet is not made entirely of home routers; some of the infected hosts appear to be commercial routers at universities and companies, and there are undoubtedly other devices involved. The preponderance of routers represented in the botnet probably has to do with the way that the botnet spreads and scans for new potential hosts. But there is no reason the malware couldn’t spread to a wide range of devices powered by the Linux operating system, including desktop servers and Internet-connected cameras. Continue reading →

Dec 14

Treasury Dept: Tor a Big Source of Bank Fraud

A new report from the U.S. Treasury Department found that a majority of bank account takeovers by cyberthieves over the past decade might have been thwarted had affected institutions known to look for and block transactions coming through Tor, a global communications network that helps users maintain anonymity by obfuscating their true location online.

The findings come in a non-public report obtained by KrebsOnSecurity that was produced by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a Treasury Department bureau responsible for collecting and analyzing data about financial transactions to combat domestic and international money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial crimes.

In the report, released on Dec. 2, 2014, FinCEN said it examined some 6,048 suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by banks between August 2001 and July 2014, searching the reports for those involving one of more than 6,000 known Tor network nodes. Investigators found 975 hits corresponding to reports totaling nearly $24 million in likely fraudulent activity.

“Analysis of these documents found that few filers were aware of the connection to Tor, that the bulk of these filings were related to cybercrime, and that Tor related filings were rapidly rising,” the report concluded. “Our BSA [Bank Secrecy Act] analysis of 6,048 IP addresses associated with the Tor darknet [link added] found that in the majority of the SAR filings, the underlying suspicious activity — most frequently account takeovers — might have been prevented if the filing institution had been aware that their network was being accessed via Tor IP addresses.”

Tables from the FinCEN report.

Tables from the FinCEN report.

FinCEN said it was clear from the SAR filings that most financial institutions were unaware that the IP address where the suspected fraudulent activity occurred was in fact a Tor node.

“Our analysis of the type of suspicious activity indicates that a majority of the SARs were filed for account takeover or identity theft,” the report noted. “In addition, analysis of the SARs filed with the designation ‘Other revealed that most were filed for ‘Account Takeover,’ and at least five additional SARs were filed incorrectly and should have been ‘Account Takeover.'”

The government also notes that there has been a fairly recent and rapid rise in the number of SAR filings over the last year involving bank fraud tied to Tor nodes.

“From October 2007 to March 2013, filings increased by 50 percent,” the report observed. “During the most recent period — March 1, 2013 to July 11, 2014 — filings rose 100 percent.” Continue reading →

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 →

Sep 14

Medical Records For Sale in Underground Stolen From Texas Life Insurance Firm

How much are your medical records worth in the cybercrime underground? This week, KrebsOnSecurity discovered medical records being sold in bulk for as little as $6.40 apiece. The digital documents, several of which were obtained by sources working with this publication, were apparently stolen from a Texas-based life insurance company that now says it is working with federal authorities on an investigation into a possible data breach.

The "Fraud Related" section of the Evolution Market.

The “Fraud Related” section of the Evolution Market.

Purloined medical records are among the many illicit goods for sale on the Evolution Market, a black market bazaar that traffics mostly in narcotics and fraud-related goods — including plenty of stolen financial data. Evolution cannot be reached from the regular Internet. Rather, visitors can only browse the site using Tor, software that helps users disguise their identity by bouncing their traffic between different servers, and by encrypting that traffic at every hop along the way.

Last week, a reader alerted this author to a merchant on Evolution Market nicknamed “ImperialRussia” who was advertising medical records for sale. ImperialRussia was hawking his goods as “fullz” — street slang for a package of all the personal and financial records that thieves would need to fraudulently open up new lines of credit in a person’s name.

Each document for sale by this seller includes the would-be identity theft victim’s name, their medical history, address, phone and driver license number, Social Security number, date of birth, bank name, routing number and checking/savings account number. Customers can purchase the records using the digital currency Bitcoin.

A set of five fullz retails for $40 ($8 per record). Buy 20 fullz and the price drops to $7 per record. Purchase 50 or more fullz, and the per record cost falls to just $6.40 — roughly the price of a value meal at a fast food restaurant. Incidentally, even at $8 per record, that’s cheaper than the price most stolen credit cards fetch on the underground markets.

Imperial Russia's ad on Evolution pimping medical and financial records stolen from a Texas life insurance firm.

Imperial Russia’s ad pimping medical and financial records stolen from a Texas life insurance firm.

“Live and Exclusive database of US FULLZ from an insurance company, particularly from NorthWestern region of U.S.,” ImperialRussia’s ad on Evolution enthuses. The pitch continues:

“Most of the fullz come with EXTRA FREEBIES inside as additional policyholders. All of the information is accurate and confirmed. Clients are from an insurance company database with GOOD to EXCELLENT credit score! I, myself was able to apply for credit cards valued from $2,000 – $10,000 with my fullz. Info can be used to apply for loans, credit cards, lines of credit, bank withdrawal, assume identity, account takeover.”

Sure enough, the source who alerted me to this listing had obtained numerous fullz from this seller. All of them contained the personal and financial information on people in the Northwest United States (mostly in Washington state) who’d applied for life insurance through American Income Life, an insurance firm based in Waco, Texas.

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 →