In 2012, Ross Ulbricht Apparently Asked for Help Recovering 40,000 Lost Bitcoins
And it worked!
Ulbricht at trial. Image: AP
While Ross Ulbricht, convicted creator of the drug marketplace Silk Road, starts his sentence, internet sleuths are still digging through the blockchain, looking for other stories to tell around the site's history.
Now, a pair of investigators may have discovered a previously unknown forum account belonging to Ulbricht, one he apparently used to asked for help finding over 40,000 bitcoins that had disappeared from his wallet's balance, and paid others hundreds of bitcoins for help on technical issues.
An investigator known as 'imposter' and Gwern Branwen, a researcher and moderator of the /r/darknetmarkets subreddit, allege that a user named kohlanta on the popular Bitcoin Talk forums is in fact Ulbricht.
"I was revisiting Gwern and my research into the Silk Road / Mt. Gox connection," imposter wrote on the Bitcoin subreddit Sunday. "Found something very interesting on the '1MR6pXD' address. Oh Ulbricht..."
"1MR6pXD" refers to a bitcoin address the pair previously discovered after identifying a Mt. Gox account used by Ross Ulbricht for Silk Road transactions. This was through a combination of filings in the Ross Ulbricht trial, a 2014 leak of the Mt. Gox database, as well as information from an "Mt. Gox insider."
Recently, imposter found a thread dating back to August 2012, where the user kohlanta claimed ownership of the bitcoin address in question, and asked for help to recover the over 40,000 BTC stored within.
"kohlanta's address [...] is the one involved in the Ulbricht withdrawals/deposits," Branwen writes.
"If you look it up in the blockchain, you can see that currently it contains 44,914.031337 BTC," kohlanta wrote at the time. "As you can see, the address is present in the wallet, and the blockchain is up to date, yet the balance reads zero," he continued, before writing "100 btc to anyone who can help me solve this problem. Thanks!"
Quickly, a solution was found. All that was required was running the command "bitcoind -rescan," which would cause kohlanta's Bitcoin client to synchronize with the blockchain. The helper received his 100 BTC reward shortly after. At the time, bitcoins were valued at around $10 each, so the helpful user made around thousand bucks for their suggestion.
Humorously, someone noticed the strangeness of someone having 40,000 BTC, a truly huge amount, without really knowing to how handle their Bitcoin software.
"Makes me wonder whether this is a viable business model: Technical support for large holders of bitcoins who have a lack of computational skills," the user wrote.
That wasn't the only time kohlanta offered rewards for technical advice. In January 2013, he asked for some tips on handling Bitcoin software again in exchange for 10 BTC, and then in March put forward 5 BTC for some help with PHP.
In his journal, Ulbricht documented the process of essentially learning to code on the fly while building and maintaining Silk Road. He also received substantial help from other, secret staff members to code the marketplace.
But this new discovery shows that others may have contributed to the development of Silk Road too, without even knowing it.