Silk Road Copycat: Five Men Arrested In Dutch Crackdown

Posted: Feb 12 2014, 2:53pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 12 2014, 2:56pm CST , in Technology News


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Five Men Arrested In Dutch Crackdown On Silk Road Copycat

The Silk Road anonymous black market for drugs thrived for two and a half years before it was taken down by the FBI and its alleged creator arrested in October. Its most recent copycat had a much shorter lifespan online: Nine days.

Prosecutors in the Netherlands have announced the arrest of five men in association with a Silk-Road style Bitcoin-based drug market called Utopia, in a case that reads like a replay of the Silk Road story in fast forward. Just over a week after its grand opening earlier this month, the Utopia site’s servers were seized in the German cities of Bochum and Dusseldorf. Three men in the Dutch cities of Enschede and Utrecht, one in the German city of Bad Nauheim were arrested in the past two days by Dutch and German police and accused variously of trafficking in drugs and weapons on Utopia and the longer-running but currently offline site Black Market Reloaded.

The fifth man, according to prosecutors, was arrested on his way to Germany in possession of cocaine, hashish ecstasy and amphetamines. And echoing the American case against alleged Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht, he’s been accused of attempted murder as well, after prosecutors say he sent a deposit for a paid assassination to an undercover law enforcement agent. None of the men were named in the prosecutors’ statement.

The operation dubbed “Commodore” by prosecutors also seized about 900 bitcoins from suspects, worth about $596,000 at current exchange rates.

Like the Silk Road, both Black Market Reloaded and Utopia used the anonymity software Tor to hide both their location and their users, and accepted only Bitcoin to avoid evidence of financial transactions. “The illegal and highly accessible nature of these websites with digital payments in bitcoins makes them very socially undesirable and create a serious distortion of the law,” reads the prosecutors’ statement in Dutch. They call their operation “a clear message to anyone who thinks they may commit crimes with digital anonymity.”

Based on the prosecutors’ statement alone, it’s not clear which if any of the arrested suspects are administrators of Utopia or Black Market Reloaded, as opposed to mere vendors or buyers of contraband on those sites. According to the prosecutors’ statement, police have been tracking the suspects since early 2013, long before Utopia was created. Black Market Reloaded, by contrast, has been online for more than two years, but was taken down by its owner, who goes by the name Backopy, in early December.

I’ve reached out to the Dutch prosecutor’s office for more information, and I’ll update this post if I learn more.

Though the arrests represent another blow to the “dark web” of black markets pioneered by Silk Road, Utopia was only one of at least half a dozen similar sites that have sprouted in recent months, with names like The Marketplace, Agora and Pandora. The Silk Road 2.0, a direct sequel to the original Tor- and Bitcoin-based marketplace, is likely the most popular of those sites, with close to 13,000 mostly-illegal product listings.

Silk Road users were mostly nonplussed by the news. “Damn all this market closure is f–king annoying,” wrote one user on the Silk Road forums. “Never even heard of this one,” wrote another.

But an official moderator for the Silk Road forums took the takedown more seriously. “This is a serious blow to the darkweb marketplace community, as honest competition is our lifeblood,” wrote a moderator with the name “Stealth.”

He went on to invite Utopia users to move their business to the very-much-still-operational Silk Road. “Please make yourselves at home here, regroup, and do it again,” Stealth writes. “Show them that you, we, are a hydra – cut off one head and ten more spring up.”

Follow me on Twitter, email me, anonymously send me sensitive documents or tips, and check out the new paperback edition of my book, This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers.

Source: Forbes

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