On Wednesday afternoon, Ross Ulbricht was found guilty of several charges in the Silk Road trial, including drug trafficking, fraud, hacking, and money laundering, which tied him to the online black market as its administrator, Dread Pirate Roberts.
The jury in Manhattan took less than four hours of deliberation to find that Ulbricht was guilty. The 30 year old is now looking at spending the rest of his life in prison or at least a minimum of 30 years.
The trial, which lasted nearly a month, has taken many twists and turns. Defense attorney Joshua Dratel did everything in his power to instill doubt in the jury that someone else was Dread Pirate Roberts or that Ulbricht was even framed. Meanwhile, Ulbricht himself declined to testify and a number of the defense’s witnesses were denied to testify by Judge Katherine Forrest.
Ulbricht’s mother, Lyn Ulbricht, who was present throughout the trial to support her son, said he will opt to appeal the verdict soon, calling the trial unfair.
Whatever path Ross Ulbricht decides the take in the coming days, one thing is for sure, The Silk Road trial was a unique and unprecedented case that highlighted the deep web, the online drug trade, Tor, and cryptocurrency. It will likely have huge implications on the future of cybercrime and the authorities chasing it for many years.
There have been many cybercrime court cases in recent years but this is arguably the biggest and most controversial of recent times. Throughout the trial we learned a lot about Ulbricht and the machinations of Silk Road and the people that became involved, either knowingly or otherwise. The investigations by authorities were ongoing for many years. Also, with the shutdown of Silk Road 2.0, a copycat market that took inspiration the original, the blueprint for tackling online drug market is beginning to take shape. Will we see more crackdowns on illicit trading over Tor in the near future? Most likely.
For all the claims that Dread Pirate Roberts or Ross Ulbricht were wily masters of online black markets, Ulbricht made one fatal error a few years ago. He kept a journal. These journal entries were read out to the court. They detailed how Ulbricht was building the site, how it would be used to sell drugs and even included an entry where Ulbricht grew his own mushrooms to sell and get the site up and running. Secondly, when Ulbricht was arrested in a San Francisco library, his laptop was logged into an admin page on the Silk Road. By coupling this scenario with the Ulbricht’s own words from a journal, it definitely had a huge effect on the jury.
While the trial shows how the likes of the FBI have stepped up their game in shuttering online drug markets, it also served as a tutorial to other deep web miscreants. Ulbricht kept a journal, used his unencrypted laptop in a public library and trusted certain people with his secrets, namely one of his college friends. These will all serve as timely reminders to admins and dealers on the many new deep web sites that have sprung up.
The Silk Road was unique in almost every way. There have been a number of high profile cases over the years relating to hacking, cybercrime and hacktivism. The cases of hactivists like Aaron Swartz, or controversial hacker weev, who recently served prison time, or Anonymous’ Hector ‘Sabu’ Monsegur all spring to mind but Silk Road posed its own challenges to the court system—how the whole thing worked. Tor, encryption, dark web, Bitcoin are all phrases and ideas that are still new in the grand scheme of things and during the second day of the trial a great deal of time was spent explaining the concepts of the Silk Road and the mechanics that powered it.
The two vital cogs in the running of the Silk Road were Tor, the anonymous private browser, and Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency of choice. While they may not all be using it, more people are aware of Tor than ever before, thanks to this case and several other high profile hacking and privacy incidents. It’s a similar case for Bitcoin. Almost by chance, on the same day of the verdict, talk of licensed regulated Bitcoin exchanges in New York emerged, giving Bitcoin enthusiasts an idea of what the future will look like for the digital currency. At the same time however, Tor and Bitcoin find themselves trying to shake off the bad reputations set by the likes of Silk Road and other drug trading on the Deep Web.