They say that a good enough hacker can trace anything on the Internet…unless a better hacker is trying to hide it. For over two years, the hacker extraordinaire known as The Dread Pirate Roberts proved to be the one nobody else could trace. Through a combination of tumbling software, internet currency, and anonymous identities, he established an anonymous drug-trading site that ultimately netted him over $80 million.
Silk Road was an anonymous website where drug sellers and drug buyers could connect and do business. It’s part of a “dark side” network of internet sites that don’t come up on Google, and are accessed through software that passes through so many different servers that the subscribers’ identities are untraceable. Or virtually untraceable. The FBI called it “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today” (USA Today, May 15, 2104).
This website was established by a computer programmer in his late 20s named Ross Ulrich. He created the site on the anonymously accessed dark webs in 2011, and for two years drug buyers and sellers from all over the world used his almost completely secure site to exchange billions of dollars in merchandise. Ulrich was convicted of several serious charges, including drug trafficking, money laundering, hacking, and later even hiring a hitman to assassinate an employee he thought had stolen from him. Ulrich was convicted of all charges and sentenced to life in prison.
When Ulrich’s laptop was seized by the FBI, they found millions of dollars of bitcoin in his personal wallet. Bitcoin is untraceable internet currency, and it was the money used for buying and selling drugs on Silk Road. Like the software Tor tumbled the connections between private servers and Silk Road servers, a bitcoin tumbler made it nearly impossible to trace bitcoin to the real accounts of specific people. Users’ identities were completely secure and their money protected until the FBI was able to figure it out.
The FBI eventually took down Silk Road and put most of its employees in jail. But the investigation revealed a whole world of drug availability that simply hadn’t been on the radar for most law enforcement. But as with most things, the criminal elements were far ahead of law enforcement, creating a whole world in which drugs could flow easily and anonymously with few repercussions.
The fight against drugs, from suppliers to dealers to users, is never ending for law enforcement. While the FBI discovery and bust of Silk Road made a major dent in the worldwide drug trade, addicts will always find ways to get more, and unscrupulous dealers will always find ways to profit off their sickness.
If you or someone you love is struggling with drug addiction, the addiction help lines at Hired Power are available 24/7. Call us at 800-910-9299 for more information on overcoming addiction.
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