Anonymity is lifeless and different classes from the Silk Street trial
It is a story that belongs in a serious movement image. Hidden identities, narcotics, cash laundering, pc hacking, blackmail and even tried homicide are all elements of this dramatic story. However the story behind Silk Street, the web black marketplace for medicine and different unlawful items, shouldn’t be fiction. It was a really actual phenomenon, and its creator, Ross Ulbricht, is a really actual individual (regardless of his “Dread Pirate Roberts” nom de plume). Tucked away as a part of the Darkish Net, Silk Street used the Tor community for anonymity and dealt in bitcoin in order that transactions stayed nameless. However because the current Silk Street trial and Ulbricht’s eventual responsible verdict confirmed, even whenever you attempt actually exhausting to masks your actions on the web, it does not essentially work.
Little is understood about how precisely the Feds pulled it off, however their story is that they have been capable of uncover the Silk Street servers by way of a software program flaw on the location’s login web page that exposed an IP tackle. That IP handle then led them to a location in Iceland the place the Silk Street server was hosted. There are a number of members of the safety group who do not essentially purchase the reason — some specialists say the FBI in all probability hacked the login web page repeatedly to pressure the IP tackle as an alternative, which is fairly unlawful to do and will set a problematic authorized precedent.
No matter how the Feds did it — whether or not it’s via reliable or questionable means — plainly they have been nonetheless capable of finding the server regardless of the masking offered by Tor. Also referred to as The Onion Router, Tor is a US Navy-designed privateness community that has lengthy been underneath scrutiny by governments the world over for its promise of anonymity. Whereas it is nonetheless notoriously troublesome to interrupt via, Silk Street and different instances present that Tor is just not totally bulletproof, particularly from the occasional router exploit or FBI-seeded malware.
As for a way the FBI tracked down Ulbricht, the so-referred to as kingpin and mastermind of the Silk Street? They did so by merely uncovering his Gmail handle. The Feds had discovered what they suspected to be one of many first mentions of “Silk Street” on the web and tracked it to a consumer by the identify of “Altoid.” From there, they found that the identical individual had posted to a discussion board asking for IT specialists on bitcoin to e-mail him at “rossulbricht at gmail dot com.” That handle was tied to accounts on Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn, all of which level to libertarian leanings that the Dread Pirate Roberts has additionally been recognized to champion. Then it was merely a matter of acquiring his data from Google and monitoring him down. Ulbricht did use a VPN to cover his location, however the FBI subpoenaed the supplier of the VPN too. All of it led them to an web cafe in San Francisco, and ultimately, to Ulbricht himself, who was arrested in a library within the metropolis’s Glen Park neighborhood.
As for a way the FBI tracked down Ulbricht, the so-referred to as kingpin and mastermind of the Silk Street? They did so by merely uncovering his Gmail tackle.
The opposite sticking level right here is using bitcoin. The cryptocurrency has lengthy been the darling of the underground net as a result of it is seen as troublesome to trace on account of its nameless and digital nature. However within the Silk Street case towards Ulbricht, the Feds managed to comply with greater than seven hundred,000 bitcoins from the Silk Street market on to Ulbricht’s private account. In line with the FBI, they have been in a position to take action as a result of they seized his laptop computer earlier than he was capable of encrypt it, thus giving the Feds entry to his bitcoin handle. As soon as they in contrast it to the blockchain — a grasp database of all bitcoin transactions — they found that Ulbricht’s digital tens of millions got here from the aforementioned Silk Street servers. Oops.
If the Silk Street case taught us something, it is that it is nigh unattainable to be really nameless on the web. If even these on the Darkish Net aren’t protected from the prying eyes of the powers that be, what hope does that give to civilians such as you and me? In any case, the Snowden leaks already confirmed the extent to which authorities surveillance has already taken place. In fact, this is not to say the federal government is watching every thing you do or that web privateness is lifeless. However the subsequent time you are feeling like sending incriminating info over e-mail (or beginning a world drug bazaar), assume twice.
[Image credit: Getty Images; Courtroom sketch: Associated Press]