Police close Silk Road 2.0 alleged criminal network and 400 Web sites

The dismantling this week of the SilkRoad 2.0 Web site for anonymously buying and selling alleged illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services and the arrest by the FBI of  in San Francisco of the alleged owner gives some hope that the reign of cyber criminals on the Web is at least about to be checked.

“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.,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara  said in a statement after the arrest of Blake Benthall.

He was charged Thursday with one count of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; and one count of money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison

Silk Road 2.0 was the successor to Silk Road, a site on the Tor network seized by law enforcement last year. The allegation is Silk Road 2.0 was a nearly identical criminal business.

While products offered were “overwhelmingly” drugs, the FBI said it also openly advertised for sale were fraudulent identification documents and computer-hacking tools and services.

According to the BBC, 400 other sites believed to be selling illegal items were also shut down at the same time by in a joint operation between 16 European countries and the U.S. Six Britons were arrested.

However, a Canadian security expert doubts the police action will do much to deter hacking groups going after corporate data. “This arrest has to do with those using technology in the drug trade,” James Arlen, Hamilton, Ont., based director of risk and advisory services with Leviathan Security Group, said in an email. “If anything, they are more likely to be bot herders rather than corporate spear phishers.”

The FBI alleged that “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,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said in a statement. “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.”

ArsTechnica has a piece on how police penetrated the operation, saying an undercover agent from Homeland Security managed to work his way into having trusted access. Security blogger Brian Krebs has more here.

Silk Road and Silk Road 2.0 operated on the Tor network, which security experts call the dark Web or the dark ‘net, a network of sites where all manners of illegal goods and porn are bought and sold, including stolen personal identification and credit card data lifted in data breaches. To access it users need the Tor browser, which anonymizes where the user has come from by disguising their IP addresses. On the other hand the Tor network is also used by legitimate whistle-blowers and political activists.

Arlen isn’t willing to say law enforcement has made big inroads with the arrest and shut down of Silk Road 2.0. However, he acknowledged in an email that “they are starting to have their first successes at understanding how technologies are being utilized by “the bad guys.”

“When you consider the various uses of technology used to support criminal activity, especially in the context of the FBI’s director being frustrated with technology companies supporting advanced cryptography and privacy without a convenient law-enforcement back-door, you can see that the “inroads” described in the case of Silk Road 2.0 capture aren’t all that significant,” he wrote.
“The real upside to the work they have done (beyond catching a few bad guys) remains firmly rooted in the traditions of good detective work – this capture did not depend on eroding the privacy rights of individuals and corporations.”
Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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