Art by: Jing Jin
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation announced today that they have successfully seized the assets of the Silk Road 2.0 in a joint operation with Europol and the New York Office of Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit and Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.
The investigation is called Operation Onymous. Apparently, the agent who filed the complaint was Vincent D. D’Augostino, a well-known Agent in Charge who previously led the team that brought down 115 members of the New York Mafia families in 2013. Whether D’Augostino was the team leader for Onymous has not yet been revealed. Onymous has also been credited with bringing down another online drug dealer in Ireland.
The site’s operator, Blake Benthall, who according to one Gawker story, was an former employee at SpaceX, was reportedly arrested in San Francisco almost exactly one year after Silk Road 2.0 went live on November 6, 2013. The site is now offline and visitors to the site are met with an official police warning that the site’s assets have now been seized.
The official FBI report claimed that Benthall was using an unencrypted computer that contained "address lists for customers all over the world that will be of significant interest to many global law enforcement agencies." Benthall has already been charged with one count of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, one count of conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking. European police agencies have also hinted that Operation Onymous will be concluded within hours and the hope is that its investigations will close the door to a great deal of activity on the Dark Web.
According to some reports, Silk Road 2.0 was processing more than US$8 million in monthly sales and Benthall, who went by the name “Defcon,” had apparently either lost or absconded with “all of the Bitcoins from the marketplace.” He reportedly told his staff in September, 2014 that the theft was carried out by an “unknown hacker.” Interestingly enough however, Benthall only had US$275,000 (see point 43), money that was obtained by trading Bitcoin for fiat currency.
Apparently, the FBI not only had access to Benthall’s supposedly unencrypted computer but also the Silk Road 2.0’s servers as well, because they claim to have viewed private messages sent to the website from customers and distributors and to have actually taken part in conversations with Benthall through the website as the investigation closed in on him. They also claim that Benthall gave them moderator privileges. If this is true then other Dark Web sites such as Hydra, C9 and Pandora, all of which are currently offline, could be affected as well.
The rumor that the task force had possession of contact information from Benthall’s computer however is probably correct. The Irish Examiner reported that the previously mentioned arrest in Ireland was of one of the Silk Road 2.0’s biggest dealer and police seized nearly €180,000 Ecstasy, LSD, and other drugs in the raid. While Benthall will likely be tried in San Francisco, California, the US Attorney for New York’s Southern District, Preet Bharara, said in a statement:
“As alleged, Blake Benthall attempted to resurrect Silk Road, a secret website that law enforcement seized last year, by running Silk Road 2.0, a nearly identical criminal enterprise. Let’s be clear – this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison. Those looking to follow in the footsteps of alleged cybercriminals should understand that we will return as many times as necessary to shut down noxious online criminal bazaars. We don’t get tired.”
The FBI, speaking through Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos supported Bharara by saying:
“It’s been more than a year since the FBI made an arrest of the administrator of the black-market bazaar, Silk Road, and here we stand again, announcing the arrest of the creator and operator of Silk Road 2.0. Following a very close business model to the first, as alleged, Blake Benthall ran a website on the Tor network facilitating supposedly anonymous deals of drugs and illegal services generating millions of dollars in monthly sales. Benthall should have known that those who hide behind the keyboard will ultimately be found. The FBI worked with law enforcement partners here and abroad on this case and will continue to investigate and bring to prosecution those who seek to run similar black markets online.”
The complaint was filed today and alleged in part that Silk Road 2.0 was one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and widely used criminal marketplaces on the internet and had more than 150,000 active users. It was opened up after the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, a.k.a. Dread Pirate Roberts, in the take down of the original Silk Road. This new site reportedly had about 13,000 listings, including 1,783 listings for “Psychedelics,” 1,697 listings for “Ecstasy,” 1,707 listings for “Cannabis,” and 379 listings for “Opioids,” as well as listings for other illegal goods and services.