11 Aug How the FBI Brought Down Darknet Marketplace Silk Road
The FBI arrested Ross Ulbricht – the administrator of the nefarious darknet marketplace called Silk Road.
Taking its name from the ancient trade route, this website was a drug den and bazaar for other illegal things. Investigators spent months tracking down Ulbricht’s digital footprints on the underground internet, spanning several years to serve as proof of his immoral activities. These details of his dealings of the online black market were presented in the court case.
An online expert codenamed Agent-1 undertook an extensive search of the tor network to locate information on Ulbricht’s online communications all the way back to January 2011.
The start of the trail was a post on an online forum where users were discussing the use and purchase of illegal magic mushrooms. The subject of the post was “Anonymous market online?”, where a user going by the moniker Altoid started to publicize the Silk Road marketplace.
While this post directed users to a WordPress website, it contained a breadcrumb link to the Silk Road’s location on the tor network or the dark web. Agent-1 confirmed that the blog was registered to an anonymous user with their location hidden.
Altoid resurfaced at another discussion site: this time talking about virtual currency and bitcoins.
The FBI claims that Ulbricht and Altoid are the same person. A few months later, Altoid stepped into a puddle when he gave away his email address. Agent-1 started to explore his online footprint, social network etc. An interesting detail was Ulbricht’s interest in the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a renowned Austrian school of economics.
After several years, he discussed the Mises Institute and its work on the Silk Road discussion forums, Dread Pirate Roberts.
Slowly, the US authorities uncovered that Silk Road had to be accessed via VPN that keeps the IP address and location of the user private but the administrator had settings such that only one IP could be used to log in to control the site.
Then, Ulbritcht started to operate under a different username called Frosty.
Following a trail of digital footprints and slip-ups from Ulbritcht, he was in the hands of the authorities and his notorious Silk Road darknet website was finally seized and shut down.