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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Want Ad Could Cost|Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht

MANHATTAN (CN) - For a man accused of leading an underground narcotics website, Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht allegedly made a lot of security mistakes.

Ulbricht saved secret encryption codes on his computer in a file named "key," left crumpled notes about product rankings in his wastebasket, and got caught administering his illicit website inside a library over a public connection, prosecutors say.

Of all of Ulbricht's alleged security lapses, however, one of the most egregious may have come in an Oct. 11, 2011, want ad on the Bitcoin Talk forum given the innocuous-sounding subject line "IT pro needed for venture backed startup."

Written by a user named "altoid," the post invited readers with the right qualifications to send answers to questions about their professional experience to "rossulbricht at gmail dot com."

Internal Revenue Service agent Gary Alfort testified on Monday that this post allowed him to obtain a search warrant forcing Google to turn over reams of Ulbricht's emails, which appear to authenticate evidence contested in the case.

Prosecutors have admitted journal entries, financial records, chat logs, photo IDs, and other damaging records purporting to tie Ulbricht to Silk Road leader "Dread Pirate Roberts," known by his initials DPR.

Ulbricht's lawyers contend that the "real" DPR set their client up by hacking his computer while it was left vulnerable.

FBI agent Christopher Beeson acknowledged earlier on the stand Monday that the laptop seized from Ulbricht on the day of his arrest crashed during imaging, and the existence of any malware and viruses on the system at the time is hard to discern.

Prosecutors have used Ulbricht's Google account emails to confirm the provenance of the files found on the laptop.

Toward the beginning of his testimony, Alfort noted that the "altoid" user had pitched Silk Road's services on Drug Forum and Schroomery.

Ulbricht allegedly wrote in a journal entry: "I finally decided that I would produce mushrooms so that I could list them on the site for cheap to get people interested."

"I worked my ass off setting up a lab in a cabin out near Bastrop off the grid," he added, referring to a city in his home state of Texas.

Ulbricht's Gmail account contained a correspondence with a Craigslist vendor renting out a country home near Bastrop.

Around this time, Ulbricht's account received receipts for a humidifier, hepa filter, petri dishes and other expenses that appeared on a financial record found on the laptop.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Serrin Turner found other evidence in Ulbricht's Facebook post telling friends in early 2012: "Surprise, I'm in Thailand now :)."

The Dread Pirate Roberts had been speaking about his vacation in there, around that time, with Silk Road staffer Variety Jones, in an encrypted chat log found on Ulbricht's computer, evidence showed.

"[R]an around beaches and jungles with some girls, very little on my mind :D," Dread allegedly wrote on Jan. 26, 2012.

"[G]irls and jungles, life don't get any better for ol' Dread Pirate Roberts, eh," VJ replied.

Earlier in that chat, VJ enthused: "i love thailand for the weather, and the weed ain't bad either."

Court adjourned early on Monday because of the blizzard rocking New York City.

Proceedings are expected to resume on Wednesday, weather permitting.

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