Authorities have arrested Ross Ulbricht of San Francisco and charged him with running the Silk Road, an online market place for anonymously buying and selling drugs. The site was hosted on Tor, the anonymity network that is thought to be immune to government regulation. In a unsealed criminal complaint, it is revealed that investigators identified Ulbricht as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the administrator of Silk Road, by following a digital trail of forum posts dating back to January of 2011 on shroomery.org and bitcointalk.org that Ulbricht allegedly made to initially promote Silk Road. From there it appears that investigators were able to piece together Ulbricht’s online presence through his email account, forum accounts and social networking profiles on LinkedIn and Google+. Pieces of code he solicited on other sites appeared to be used on the Silk Road website and investigators linked his IP address to a geographic location close to where the administrator of the Silk Road logged on to his site. He was further linked to the site by interception of false identity documents that Dread Pirate Roberts had solicited on the Silk Road.
It would seem the Tor anonymity network and Bitcoin, the pseudo-anonymous digital currency used on Silk Road, were not exploited. Instead, investigators picked up on a number of mistakes Ulbricht made by linking his Silk Road identity to his real identity on the internet. This is in contrast to the July take down of Freedom Hosting, a Tor based server that allowed users to easily create anonymous websites on the Tor network. Freedom Hosting was notorious for hosting child porn websites and was taken over by the FBI and used to deliver malware attacks to users. Later releases of Tor claim to have fixed the bug that allowed this to happen.
All of this really means that you can never be too careful, particularly when you are running a $15 million a year criminal enterprise. As late as September 6, Computer security and privacy specialist Bruce Shneier advocated for using Tor to secure personal communications from NSA snoopers, though he noted it may make you a target and that other measures needed to be taken. Though Tor and Bitcoin have been touted as examples of market anarchism and crypto-libertarianism in action, agorists might consider staying out of the drug business altogether and leave it to career criminals. Anti-state radicals should probably stay away from illegal activity, anyway.
Authorities have arrested a man in San Francisco, California accused of operating an underground website that allowed users to purchase guns and drugs from around the world using encrypted, digital currency.
Ross William Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday for his alleged involvement in the Silk Road online marketplace, according to court papers published this week.