Early this month, federal authorities arrested Ross Ulbricht, a San Francisco man accused of three felonies in connection with operating online black marketplace Silk Road. Silk Road was a known destination for people seeking to buy and sell illicit goods online—largely drugs, but also guns and false IDs, according to media reports. The site stayed ahead of the law by requiring users to log in via a special web browser that “anonymized” them, and then pay for their goods using Bitcoins, an online currency believed to be untraceable. But federal authorities seem to have gotten into Silk Road’s systems anyway, the Guardian reported—possibly by hacking the site—and now likely have a long list of digital identities of the site’s buyers and sellers. At least eight people have been arrested on drug charges.
The Guardian reported that the FBI shut down the site Oct. 1, the same day they arrested Ulbricht on
criminal charges of money laundering, drug trafficking,
computer hacking and soliciting murders of people he allegedly believed would expose him—a former worker and a blackmailer. He has denied all the charges, but agreed to be extradited to New York, where most of them were filed. Eight other people in the U.S., Britain and Sweden have been arrested on drug sales charges. Court papers say the agency has copied the information on Silk Road’s server, giving them access to everything that was on the site. This will give them a chance to trace users’ identities, physical locations and transaction histories, especially because the site used an eBay-style user ratings system. One computer expert told the newspaper that bitcoins are traceable, which should also help authorities track down and detail Silk Road users’ drug transactions.
A computer expert told the Guardian that the FBI may have hacked the Silk Road server prior to making the arrests. The charging documents don’t establish exactly how the authorities might have connected Ulbricht to Silk Road, and they don’t have to, the Guardian said—but prosecutors will eventually have to explain it in court. The charging documents show that authorities were able to find Ulbricht through a trail of social media and online forum postings, plus interception of false documents headed for Ulbricht by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents. But because that chain of evidence isn’t strong in the charging documents, the Guardian said, some computer experts believe the federal government hacked the site without notice.
The computer expert also told the Guardian that Silk Road sellers with a lot of transactions should be very nervous right now. It may not be clear how the federal government got the information, but it is clear that authorities have a lot of information that could be incriminating for sellers and possibly even buyers. If you believe that you could be criminally charged in connection with Silk Road activity, please don’t hesitate to contact Seltzer Mayberg, LLC, for a free, confidential consultation. Because I focus my law practice on cyber crimes, I understand some of the underlying technical issues that could affect how your charges are brought—and how they could be dismissed, under the right circumstances. The sooner we hear about your case, the sooner we can work on building a strong defense or reaching a favorable plea agreement.
Based in south Florida, Seltzer Mayberg, LLC, represents clients around the United States who are accused of serious crimes involving computers, technology and the Internet. To tell us your story and learn more about your rights and your options, call us 24 hours a day at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.
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