The Silk Road 2.0, the site that sprang up after the original was shut down by the FBI in October 2013, is down, after being seized by law enforcement.
According to a notice put on the Silk Road 2.0 site, it was shut down by a joint operation by the FBI, ICE Homeland Security Investigations, and "European law enforcement agencies acting through Europol and Eurojust."
The FBI arrested Blake Benthall, who allegedly ran the site under the handle Defcon, yesterday in San Francisco.
"Blake Benthall attempted to resurrect Silk Road, a secret website that law enforcement seized last year, by running Silk Road 2.0, a nearly identical criminal enterprise," Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "Let's be clear—this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison."
As of around 2:30 PM UTC, both the forums—which administration, buyers and vendors use to communicate—and the site itself where drugs and other goods are traded, were unresponsive. Then at around 3:30 PM UTC, the notice was uploaded.
Silk Road users had reported strange activity on the site for the past 12 hours. Some vendors were reportedly locked out of their accounts, unable to access them at all.
"My vendor profile just locked me out and so did a couple other people by to looks of it," wrote one user yesterday. "Something might be going on."
Others couldn't withdraw their funds from the site. "It says I have incorrect pin which is bullshit," cried one user. "My account's pin no longer work, and it worked yesterday," wrote another. "What's going on?"
After these messages started to pile up, 'Alfred', who is the administrator of the neutral forum 'The Hub', which acts as a sort of central meeting point for the dark markets, posted an ominous warning onto the Silk Road 2.0 forums.
"Everyone," he wrote, "I cannot give much detail, only that if you are able to get your coins out of SR you should do so IMMEDIATELY. Please take my word on this."
Users were concerned that the moderators—those Silk Road staff members whose job it is to maintain the forums—hadn't said anything. Alfred claims they had been "locked out of their forum accounts," according to another post of his.
Some users panicked, while others doubted there was anything to worry about
Some users panicked, while others doubted there was anything to worry about.
Then, the site disappeared, and was replaced with an official-looking warning very similar to that of the one put up when the original site was shut down.
With the site offline, this means that nobody can access any funds stored on the site, and that buyers, sellers or staff can't talk with each other, unless they change to other means of communication, away from the Silk Road itself.
No staff members would go on the record about the incident.
The past few months have been a rocky period for the libertarian marketplace. After a hack in February, where $2.7 million worth of bitcoin were allegedly stolen, Defcon promised to pay back everyone who lost their money. That did indeed happen, but at a much slower rate than expected, and recently one staff member resigned his position as a moderator, claiming that the users of the site were being "lied to."
Silk Road 2.0 is also no longer the biggest marketplace on the deep web. Both Evolution and Agora, which launched more recently, have more listings for drugs than the Silk Road. Dozens of other deep web markets now exist.
If this is the end of the Silk Road as a marketplace, it may also mean the end of Silk Road as a brand. But the first Silk Road and its replacements show the resilience of deep web markets. That appeal of a place where people can trade anonymously and securely largely away from the control of the state is unlikely to die.
Benthall, 26, is being charged with one count of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life; one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; and one count of money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.