An online black market which freely offered drugs, hacking tools, stolen credit cards and hitmen for sale has been shut down by US federal investigators.
The suspected operator of the site, a 29-year-old man named Ross William Ulbricht (AKA 'Dread Pirate Roberts') has been arrested.
In a statement the Justice Department said Ulbricht was arrested in San Francisco on Tuesday, and that $3.6 million in the digital currency bitcoin was seized during the raid.
Ulbricht will reportedly be charged with a variety of offences, including conspiracy to commit drug trafficking and money laundering. It is alleged that he controlled all aspects of the illicit business, including building and maintaining the site, and decided what could and could not be sold there.
The US government also allege that Ulbricht used The Silk Road to discuss the potential, though unproven, assassination of a rival seller who threatened to expose members' identities. The price for the killing was apparently set somewhere between $150,000 to $300,000 "depending on how you want it done, ‘clean’ or ‘non-clean".
"From in or about January 2011, up to and including September 2013, the Silk Road Hidden Website... has served as an online marketplace where illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services have been regularly bought and sold by the site's users.
"The complainant further alleges, in part, that the Silk Road Hidden Website is designed to facilitate the illicit commerce hosted on the site by providing anonymity to its users, by operating on what is known as The Onion Router or Tor network... and by requiring all transactions to be paid in bitcoins, an electronic currency designed to be as anonymous as cash."
According to Krebson Security, some of the items for sale on The Silk Road included:
- 801 'for sale' listings, including hacked Netflix and Amazon accounts
- 159 'services' including hacking, hitmen for hire and the sale of guns and ammunition
- 169 forgeries, including fake driver’s licenses, passports, Social Security cards, utility bills, credit card statements and car insurance records
'The Silk Road' was not accessible through normal browsers, but only through the so-called 'dark web' network Tor.
Tor uses complex anonymity software to try and distribute the identity of its browsers to servers around the world, making it difficult for authorities to know who is using it.
FBI agents have now replaced the site with a message stating that it has been "seized" in conjunction with the IRS.
But experts said that the arrest was made not by agents managing to crack Tor, but through traditional detective work.
Robert Hansen, technical evangelist at WhiteHat Security said:
"In this case it wasn't a Tor issue, but an OPSEC issue. Ross Ulbricht combined many online actions with his private actions and gave away many signals that led the federal authorities to figure out who he was.
"Tor itself is very difficult to break; however, given that the authorities knew who he was - due to a customs bust involving counterfeit identification documents - combined with his online personas and the fact that Google and Comcast comply with requests to give IP information of their users, it was relatively straight forward to decloak him."