Silk Road was an online black market and the first modern darknet market, best known as a platform for selling illegal drugs. As part of the dark web, it was operated as a Tor hidden service, such that online users were able to browse it anonymously and securely without potential traffic monitoring. The website was launched in February 2011; development had begun six months prior. Initially there were a limited number of new seller accounts available; new sellers had to purchase an account in an auction. Later, a fixed fee was charged for each new seller account.
In October 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shut down the website and arrested Ross William Ulbricht under charges of being the site’s pseudonymous founder “Dread Pirate Roberts”. On 6 November 2013, Silk Road 2.0 came online, run by former administrators of Silk Road. It too was shut down and the alleged operator was arrested on 6 November 2014 as part of the so-called “Operation Onymous”.
Ulbricht was convicted of seven charges related to Silk Road in U.S. Federal Court in Manhattan and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Further charges alleging murder-for-hire remain pending in Maryland.
Ross Ulbricht was alleged by the FBI to be the founder and owner of Silk Road and the person behind the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts”. He was arrested on 2 October 2013 in San Francisco at 3:15 p.m. PST in Glen ParkLibrary, a branch of the San Francisco Public Library.
Ulbricht was indicted on charges of money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic narcotics,and attempting to have six people killed. Prosecutors alleged that Ulbricht paid $730,000 to others to commit the murders, although none of the murders actually occurred. Ulbricht ultimately was not prosecuted for any of the alleged murder attempts.
The FBI initially seized 26,000 bitcoins from accounts on Silk Road, worth approximately $3.6 million at the time. An FBI spokesperson said that the agency would hold the bitcoins until Ulbricht’s trial finished, after which the bitcoins would be liquidated. In October 2013, the FBI reported that it had seized 144,000 bitcoins, worth $28.5 million, and that the bitcoins belonged to Ulbricht. On 27 June 2014, the U.S. Marshals Service sold 29,657 bitcoins in 10 blocks in an online auction, estimated to be worth $18 million at current rates and only about a quarter of the seized bitcoins. Another 144,342 bitcoins were kept which had been found on Ulbricht’s computer, roughly $87 million. Tim Draper bought the bitcoins at the auction with an estimated worth of $17 million, to lend them to a bitcoin start-up called Vaurum which is working in developing economies of emerging markets.