The second version of the dark web marketplace Silk Road has been closed down by the FBI, who have announced the arrest of Blake Benthall, also known as “Defcon”.
According to an FBI statement, Benthall has been arrested in San Francisco in connection with his operation and ownership of the Silk Road 2.0 website, which enabled users to buy and sell illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services anonymously.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, Blake Benthall attempted to resurrect Silk Road, a secret website that law enforcement seized last year, by running Silk Road 2.0, a nearly identical criminal enterprise.
“Let’s be clear—this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison. 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.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said: “It’s been more than a year since the FBI made an arrest of the administrator of the black-market bazaar, Silk Road, and here we stand again, announcing the arrest of the creator and operator of Silk Road 2.0. 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. 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.”
HSI Executive Associate Director Peter Edge said: “Blake Benthall’s arrest ends his status as the alleged administrator of a website that allows illicit black-market activities to evolve and expand, and provides a safe haven for illegal vices. HSI will continue to work in partnership with its federal and international law enforcement partners around the world to hold criminals who use anonymous Internet software for illegal activities who seek to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet to carry out illegal activities accountable for their actions.”
The second Silk Road website was launched following the takedown of the original Silk Road website a year ago. Described as “one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and widely used criminal marketplaces on the internet today”, the website operated on the “Tor” network and has been used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to buyers throughout the world. As of September 2014, Silk Road 2.0 was generating sales of at least approximately $8 million per month and had approximately 150,000 active users, the FBI statement said.
ginally. Bethall used the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts”, the monicker of the original Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht, who is currently facing trial. He switched to using Defcon in late December 2013.
He is alleged to have controlled and overseen all aspects of Silk Road 2.0, including: the computer infrastructure and programming code underlying the website; the terms of service and commission rates imposed on vendors and customers of the website; the small staff of online administrators and forum moderators who have assisted with the day-to-day operation of the website; and the massive profits generated from the operation of the illegal business.
The takedown was enabled by an undercover Homeland Security agent who successfully infiltrated the support staff involved in the administration of the Silk Road 2.0 website, and was given access to private, restricted areas of the site reserved for Benthall and his administrative staff. This allowed the agent to interact directly with Benthall throughout his operation of the website.
Benthall has been charged with: one count of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of ten 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.