Dread Pirate Roberts
More details are being released regarding the capture of Ross Ulbricht, a.k.a. The Dread Pirate Roberts. Silk Road was shut down on Tuesday after authorities were able to capture Ulbricht, after a years-long search for the website's mastermind.
But how did they do it? After all of this time, and with the protective layers of the Tor network keeping his identity a mystery, how were they able to finally capture him? Court documents spell it out: he allegedly posted his Gmail address for all to see online.
I guess even the biggest e-criminal mastermind can't hide forever!
Dread Pirate Roberts: Where Was He Found?
After years of trying, how were authorities able to finally identify and capture Ulbricht? Silk Road isn't your typical cheap hosting site, after all. The FBI had been searching for clues for years. In January of 2011, an FBI agent found a post by “Altoid” on an internet forum dedicated to those who enjoy using magic mushrooms.
He mentioned Silk Road there, and again on a forum called Bitcoin Talk. Both posts were like advertisements for the sites, in the FBI agent's eyes, a practice referred to as “astroturfing.”
Altoid was then suspected to be involved more closely when he posted eight months later in the same Bitcoin forum, asking an IT professional with Bitcoin expertise to contact him regarding a startup.
The key break: he provided his email address directly in the forum, email@example.com.
Dread Pirate Roberts: Linking It All Together
Once they had an email address, they were able to view Ulbricht's LinkedIn and Google+ accounts. It was because of postings on these free hosting accounts authorities were able to put two and two together. How?
Well, the Dread Pirate Roberts said numerous times that Ludwig von Mises, Austrian School economist with libertarian ideas, was responsible for “providing the philosophical underpinnings for Silk Road.” It just so happens Ulbricht was a fan of von Mises as well, even posting the economist's videos on YouTube linked to Ulbricht's Google+ account.
Dread Pirate Roberts: With The Address Comes The Capture
Although he created a fake IP address thanks to a virtual private network (VPN), the records associated with that VPN server pinpointed his location: a cafe with Internet access, conveniently located close to where Ulbricht was living.
What's more, after getting their hands on Google records, authorities were able to verify that Ulbricht accessed the Internet at this cafe on a regular basis. Coincidentally, the VPN was accessed on the very same day as a Gmail login.
With this information, Homeland Security was able to pay him a little visit after preventing a package sent from Canada to reach Ulbricht. Inside that package: falsified documents for nine separate identities, all bearing Ulbricht's image.
What were the IDs for? Weeks before this incident occurred, Ulbricht asked the Silk Road community how to acquire IDs to rent out additional servers to handle growing site demand.
Sometimes, the smallest mistakes lead to a big problem. It's hard to imagine that someone as clever as Ulbricht would have made this foolish mistake, but it seems as though he became far too comfortable in his silky shoes.