Silk Road: Felony conviction in a world far away

I’ve previously discussed Silk Road as one of the worlds far away from me that I’ll never visit. Learning about stuff is why I’m writing this blog.

Last week Ross Ulbricht was convicted of multiple felonies for his role in running Silk Road, a place where you could buy all sorts of illegal stuff.

Some recent articles that help me better understand this bizarre alternate universe.

2/2 – Silk Road – The feds claim that Ross Ulbricht is the so-called Dread Pirate Roberts who ran Silk Road. That was an on-line dark market where you could buy anything you want, especially a huge selection of illegal stuff.  His trial has been underway for a while. I’ve not made many comments.

Today’s developments were a very brief defense concluding with announcement Mr. Ulbricht will not testify.  Closing arguments expected Wednesday, 2/4.

I’ll have more comments when the verdict comes back and especially when the feature articles appear after the trial.

2/4 – Wall Street Journal – Silk Road Creator Found Guilty of Cybercrimes – In just 3.5 hours of deliberation, the jury found Ross Ulbricht guilty on seven felony counts. Unexplained is how the FBI was able to penetrate the Tor software. From the superficial reading I’ve done, I thought that was supposed to be an impenetrable wall of privacy on the ‘net. Another interesting comment in the article is that the FBI was able to link him to specific Bitcoin transactions in Silk Road sales. That is way over my head, but trying to figure out things way beyond me is why I’m reading and writing. Missing from the charges and testimony are the oft-discussed six contract murders he allegedly asked an informant to carry out.

2/4 – Wired – Silk Road Mastermind Ross Ulbricht Convicted of All 7 Charges – A bit deeper coverage of the conviction.

From the article:

More broadly, the case represents the limits of cryptographic anonymity tools like Tor and bitcoin against the surveillance powers of the U.S. government. In spite of his use of those crypto tools and others, Ulbricht couldn’t prevent the combined efforts of the FBI, DHS, and IRS from linking his pseudonym to his real-world identity.

There are a few small lessons for us common, everyday folk going about our (legal) business.

First, there is no absolute privacy on the ‘net, in spite of what the first paragraphs of so many articles may say.

Second, if national level police and security agencies want inside your computer, they will get there.

For people who live in worlds I’ll never visit (places like online dope sales), there are deeper lessons that wouldn’t cross my mind:

If the feds do find the administrators of the next generation of dark web drug sites, as they found Ulbricht, don’t expect those online drug lords to let their unencrypted laptops be snatched in a public library, or to have kept assiduous journals of their criminal conspiracies. The Dread Pirate Roberts’ successors have no doubt been watching his trial unfold and learning from his mistakes. And the next guilty verdict may not be so easy.

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