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FBI busts operator of Silk Road, seizes $3.6M in Bitcoins

Jaikumar Vijayan | Oct. 3, 2013
'Dread Pirate Roberts' accused of running site that generated $1.2 billion trafficking drugs, illegal substances.

Ulbricht apparently was not above using intimidation and violence to protect his interests, according to the court documents. In one incident, Ulbricht is alleged to have solicited the services of a third party to kill a Silk Road member in White Rock, British Columbia, who was attempting to extort money from Ulbricht by threatening to expose the actual names of vendors and users of the site.

Ulbricht is alleged to have paid approximately $150,000 to the third party to have the would-be extortionist killed. "It doesn't have to be clean," Ulbrict is quoted as messaging the killer-for-hire.

Subsequent messages between the two parties suggest that the person seeking to blackmail Ulbricht was killed in March or April. However, Canadian police had no record of an individual by the name Ulbricht had provided nor did they any record of a homicide in White Rock around that time period, the indictment said.

The court document offers a detailed glimpse of the lengths that Ulbricht went to hide Silk Road's activities. The site, for instance, was only available through the Tor hidden network, and users could only access the site using the Tor browser. The site also accepted payments for purchases in anonymous Bitcoins currency.

Tor is a well-known free service that supposedly let's users use the Internet in total anonymity. It uses numerous relays and encrypted connections for routing messages so that it becomes next to impossible to trace the message back to its originating IP address.

Tor's hidden service protocol allows a website to operate on the Internet without revealing the true IP address of the servers hosting the site. Journalists, rights groups and privacy advocates often use the service to communicate with whistleblowers and to exchange sensitive information without fear of being tracked. The network is also often used for anonymous email and messaging services.

The recent revelations about the U.S. government's spying activities have resulted in a spike in Tor usage over the past few months. It has also focused attention about the extent of the anonymity offered by Tor with some security researchers suggesting that the FBI and other intelligence agencies may have found a way to compromise the network.

This week's news about the Silk Road shutdown will likely prompt more questions about Tor anonymity.


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