The recent take down of Silk Road 2.0 was a part of a much larger crackdown operation by the FBI and UK’s National Crime Association in several countries, seizing several darknet domains.
The police have arrested 17 individuals from several countries and the bust has resulted in the shutdown of more than 25 other Tor anonymized websites, including the Silk Road 2.0. The authorities had earlier reported that they had shut down 400 websites, but the number has now been replaced with 27.
With incomplete records of the investigation, there is much speculation about the technologies used by the FBI to crack down Tor-run websites. While there is still confusion over the process followed by the police to locate some of the key servers, it’s possible that the bust was not down to just strong Tor-cracking technology.
It is possible that the FBI used an unknown (and maybe even illegal) technology to bust the darknet, but they don’t really need to break Tor anonymity, especially when the users themselves break it for them. Much of the disclosure could be done with the help of subpoenaed registry info and simple IP look-ups, and the Silk Road 2.0 server could be identified because the cops could see the market go down as they executed an investigative attack on it.
Blake Benthall ran the Silk Road 2.0, and it seems that he went down for the same reason as Ross Ulbricht before him – carelessness. The server that was found to be hosting Silk Road 2.0 was registered to [email protected], easily giving away its real identity.
Although these online kingpins have their own aliases, like Dread Pirate Roberts, Benthall retweeted positive messages about the Silk Road and put Bitcoins worth $70,000 towards a Tesla Model S. While these are not illegal actions, they are certainly very careless and signal towards his real identity. Both Benthall and Ulbricht had an avid social media presence and spoke about issues like Bitcoin and Tor, which blew away their cover.
The operation was called Operation Onymous by the FBI, and it seems that the 410 “hidden services” seized by them did not mean marketplaces, as the total number has now come out to be 27. According to an FBI spokesman, David Berman, the 400+ URLs are from just a few websites, “There are many URLs to particular sites,” he said. “We’re still going through the results of the operation.”
The busted websites offered the sale of illegal goods and services, such as narcotics, counterfeit credit cards, counterfeit currency, and fake identity documents. The operation has led to the seizure of Bitcoins worth a million dollars, and another €180,000 in drugs, cash, gold, and silver. Last year, the feds seized Bitcoins worth $25 million when they took down the Silk Road, and the currency was later auctioned off.
As of now, Benthall is the only arrested person whose name has been disclosed in Operation Onymous. Six of the 17 arrested people were captured in the UK and released on bail. Benthall has now been transferred to New York City where he will face narcotics trafficking and money laundering charges, which could translate to a life term.