Lessons from the Silk Road

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.17.42 AMBy Juliya Ziskina

After a several weeks-long trial, a federal jury found Ross Ulbricht guilty of running and operating the online black market known as Silk Road on February 4, 2015. (We previously covered opening statements in the case here.) The jury deliberated for only three and a half hours before convicting him on all counts, including conspiring to sell narcotics, hacking software and counterfeit documents, and a “Continuing Criminal Enterprise” charge, commonly known as the “kingpin” charge usually reserved for organized crime bosses. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. Ulbricht was accused of being the “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the “ringleader” of Silk Road, which he started in 2010 in order to sell hallucinogenic mushrooms. It then grew into a digital marketplace for narcotics and other illegal items like fake passports. Silk Road was cloaked in the Tor anonymity network to hide it from view and used Bitcoin as its currency of choice due its difficulty to track. The site was eventually shut down in 2013 when the FBI seized its servers and arrested Ulbricht.

The FBI claims that it was able to uncover the Silk Road servers via a software flaw on the site’s login page that revealed an IP address. That IP address then led to a location in Iceland where the Silk Road server was hosted. However, some members of the security community surmise that the FBI hacked the login page to force the IP address instead, which is illegal and could set a problematic legal precedent. Continue reading