Our journey to the Underworld takes us into the world of Cybercrime and the story of Dark Website The Silk Road, an online marketplace like no other, and a haven for drug dealers, gun runners and document forgers.
Founded in February 2011 by a young libertarian called Ross Ulbricht (alias Dread Pirate Roberts, a character in the movie The Princess Bride whose identity was said to be shared by several people), the original Silk Road website was active for less than three years, but in that time it made quite a stir.,,,It made Ulbricht a multi-millionaire, and later a convict.
The Deep Web & the Dark Web
The deep web is the part of the internet that most users never see. It’s defined as encompassing all of the World Wide Web content that, for one reason or another, is not indexed by search engines such as Google (the indexed portion of the internet is referred to as the surface web).
As a result of the success and notoriety of websites such as Silk Road, a small but notorious section of the deep web has become widely referred to as the dark web.
Born in Austin, Texas, Ross Ulbricht held a degree in physics from the University of Texas and a Masters in Engineering from Pennsylvania State University. He held libertarian views about the world; skeptical about governmental authority and questioned the legitimacy and effectiveness of the US War on Drugs.
Silk Road Founder: Ross Ulbricht
After graduation, Ulbricht was a research assistant in his alma mater. Later, having decided that he did not want to become a full-time scientist, Ulbricht tried his hand at a number of start-ups, including an online bookstore. However, he became disillusioned with his attempts to become a successful entrepreneur and, like many other computer programmers of his age and ability, he headed towards Silicon Valley to create a start-up like no other.
Named after the historical trade route network that connected Europe to East Asia, Ulbricht founded Silk Road on the basis of a modest principle: making the world a better place. According to his LinkedIn profile, Ulbricht wanted “to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression among mankind.”
Silk Road was designed by Ulbricht be a free market, a market whose very existence would be outside the scope of government control, thereby undermining the very fabric of the state.
As it operated as a Tor hidden service, communications on Silk Road were considered by users to be almost entirely anonymous. In addition, transactions on Silk Road could only be made using bitcoin, which, although not entirely anonymous, offered a level of anonymity far greater than any other form of currency or credit card transactions would have enabled.
Although the authorities were aware of the existence of Silk Road within a few months of its launch, it took over two years from that time for Ulbricht’s identity to be revealed.
Silk Road Logo
The End of the Road
On an October afternoon in a public library in San Francisco, Ross Ulbricht’s dream of an online libertarian paradise came to a sudden end. The FBI had finally caught up with Ulbricht having infiltrated Silk Road by ‘flipping’ many of Ulbricht’s closest associates and using their identities to gradually unravel the Silk Road network. The final connection was made between Silk Road and Ulbricht when a simple Google search connected the Dread Pirate Roberts with another alias called ‘altoid’ that was an early promoter of Silk Road on another drug forum. That alias was traced through the internet to a bitcoin forum where Ulbricht had posted his personal email address.
Ulbricht was caught red-handed. At the time of his arrest, he was logged into Silk Road as an administrator and using his Dread Pirate Roberts alias to unknowingly communicate with an undercover FBI agent. Agents found that Ulbricht’s laptop had tens of millions of dollars of bitcoin on it, with millions more stored on USB drives found in his apartment.
He was eventually convicted of money laundering, computer hacking and drug trafficking and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Ross Ulbricht appealed against his conviction and the life imprisonment sentence handed down, citing the two corruption convictions against Force and Bridges, neither of which his defense team were made aware of during his trial. His defense team also claimed that the FBI searches of the Silk Road network during their investigation were unconstitutional. The judges rejected the appeal, noting the fact that, when sentencing, the trial judge had took into consideration the allegations of attempted murder brought against Ulbricht.
Following Ross Ulbricht’s arrest in October 2013, Silk Road 2.0 was temporarily re-opened by administrators of the original site. Silk Road 2.0 survived for about a year until it too was shut down and the alleged operator arrested.
Ross Ulbricht remains in prison, sentenced to life without chance at parole, he recently lost an appeal against this seemingly harsh punishment with a three-judge appellate panel affirming the original decision of the court
Ross’ family continue to campaign to “free Ross Ulbricht from a barbaric, double life sentence for all non-violent charges”, with a website in place to accept donations towards lawyer fees.
For more tales from the Underworld check out the Detroit Mafia feature in our Web Magazine ‘Disclosure’, an Afro-futurist Lifestyle & Collective Evolution Magazine, providing information missing from the mainstream and an increasingly Policed Social Media.
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