US government clamps down on Silk Road 2.0 as founder is arrested

7 Nov 2014

What appears on screen when trying to access Silk Road 2.0 services online. Image via Reddit user, siclik

People using the ‘Deep Web’ are again in the line of fire from governments as the US begins to clamp down on Silk Road 2.0 and its founder finds himself behind bars.

Coincidentally, just more than a year since the US government took down the first incarnation of Silk Road, the second version has fallen into the hands of authorities and its 26-year-old founder, Blake Benthall, has been arrested for a long list of crimes related to the service.

Robert Ulrich, creator of the original Silk Road, had established it as the go-to place for illegal goods and services online but within one month of its closure by the FBI in November last year, Benthall got the operation going again.

Going under the alias Defcon, Benthall is now facing a long time in prison, with charges of drug trafficking, hacking, money laundering and almost every offence in the book being made against him.

The official complaint against him also said he was making considerable amounts of money with his home operation, to the tune of US$8m a month in bitcoin sales, as people from all over the world traded in illegal goods and services.

This money helped fund a noticeably extravagant lifestyle for a 26-year-old with no high-paying job, including a pre-order for a Tesla S electric car for US$125,000, while also paying people to help him with the upkeep of the service.

‘The road to prison’

While both Ulrich and Benthall had emphasised during their times at the helm of the operation that the site was not a money-making scheme, but rather an experiment in free-market ideals, the FBI in a statement clearly did not feel the same way.

“Let’s be clear – this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison,” said Preet Bharara, an attorney representing the case on behalf of the FBI.

“Those looking to follow in the footsteps of alleged cyber-criminals should understand that we will return as many times as necessary to shut down noxious online criminal bazaars. We don’t get tired.”

This news comes shortly after a gang based in Ireland was arrested as part of an FBI, Interpol and European Police Forces operation for taking part in Silk Road 2.0 activities, and was found with €200,000 worth of drugs in a Dublin property.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic