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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hunt for Silk Road users and Bitcoin fortunes intensifies

Hunt for Silk Road users and Bitcoin fortunes intensifiesReuters/ Jim Urquhart

Officials in Britain, Sweden and the US have arrested eight more people in connection with Silk Road, the website for criminal services, while the search for millions of dollars in Bitcoins – the currency of choice for online users – continues.
Britain’s newly-unveiled National Crime Agency (NCA) flexed its muscles when it detained on Tuesday four suspected drug offenders who used the ‘anonymous’ services provided by Silk Road, dubbed the ‘Amazon.com of illegal drugs’.

The agency's director general, Keith Bristow, gave fair warning to other internet drug dealers to be prepared for further crackdowns.

"These latest arrests are just the start; there are many more to come," he said.

The British investigation also promises to take a bite out of the Bitcoin, the virtual currency used by Silk Road customers to buy and sell illicit goods and services. The NCA said it had seized millions of pounds worth of the electronic currency.

Meanwhile, the FBI reportedly seized $3.6 million worth of the currency in last week’s raid, but is still searching for over 600,000 Bitcoins, worth about $80 million, that suspected Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht is believed to have amassed while running the online drug operation, according to the Guardian.

Ulbricht, 29, was arrested while using the Internet services at a public library in San Francisco last week.

In a court appearance last Friday, Ulbricht’s lawyer denied all charges brought against his client, who officials say ran Silk Road under the alias ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’.

The arrests emphasize the international scope of the crackdown, which began in earnest last week when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a raid on Silk Road, which has been described as the largest online drug dealing portal.

In Sweden, two men from the coastal city of Helsingborg were arrested on suspicion of distributing cannabis over Silk Road, the local Helsingborgs Dagblad reported Tuesday.

US officials have brought charges against a couple from Bellevue, Washington, with one of them identified as the top 1 percent of sellers on the site.

“Steven L. Sadler allegedly sold cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine through Silk Road…and used the Postal Service as a major delivery system for his illegal enterprise,” according to the Bellevue Reporter.

In the last four months of sales documented, the criminal complaint alleges Sadler, who went by the name ‘Nod’, sold more than 2,600 grams of cocaine, nearly 600 grams of heroin and 105 grams of methamphetamine.

Silk Road, however, was used for more than just drug purchases, authorities say.

The FBI suspects thousands of people accessed Silk Road in its two-and-a-half-year existence to buy and sell illicit drugs, acquire forged documents, and possibly even order assassinations. The total value of the trades exceeded $1.2 billion, according to the US domestic crime agency.

Meanwhile, British officials are describing the recent arrests as just the beginning of a broader crackdown on underground Internet crime.

"This is only the start of a wider campaign for the NCA to tackle the 'dark' or 'deep' web and the criminals exploiting it," Andy Archibald, head of the agency's National Cyber Crime Unit, said in a statement.

These criminal areas of the internet aren't just selling drugs; it's where fraud takes place, where the trafficking of people and goods is discussed, where child abuse images are exchanged and firearms are traded," he added.

Bristow took a swipe at internet users who think their activity can be hidden with the help of technical applications.

"The hidden internet isn't hidden and your anonymous activity isn't anonymous. We know where you are, what you are doing and we will catch you," he said in his statement.

Bristow revealed that hidden or anonymous online use were a main priority for the NCA, which employs some 4,000 officers to track criminal activity on the internet.

According to an FBI affidavit filed in San Francisco, there were 957,079 user accounts on Silk Road.

Around 30 percent of the total users were located in the United States with the next highest number of users based in the UK. The FBI did not disclose how many users there were in the UK.
Sandy Higgs