The fate of the original Silk Road, the dark web marketplace, is well known, but what’s less well known is what happened to its copycat site, Silk Road 2.0. Following the jailing of Gary Davis, the final existing suspect in the case, we look at the brief history of the site and what happened to its operators.
Silk Road Rises
When the original Silk Road website was shut down by the FBI in October 2013 after founder Ross Ulbricht’s arrest, many thought that was the end of such marketplaces. However, on November 6, just a month after Ulbricht’s arrest, Silk Road 2.0 appeared on the dark web. Clearly using the same code, the site was practically identical to its predecessor and offered the same products through its marketplace.
The site was headed up by a Dread Pirate Roberts, the same pseudonym used by Ulbricht, and was operated by the former administrators of Silk Road, who promised stronger security to ease the minds of concerned sellers. This included double-authentication procedures using PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) cryptographic encryption keys, and the ability to replicate and upload the site within 15 minutes of any takedown.
Silk Road 2.0 took off, with buyers and seller flocking to the new site, helped by the new operators embracing the media coverage afforded to it. The new Dread Pirate Roberts was interviewed by online magazines and was even said to be working with BBC for a documentary, despite Ulbricht having been arrested just weeks after giving an interview to Forbes magazine in 2013. Some six weeks after the site launched the problems began, with three alleged administrators being arrested for their part in both Silk Road sites. Shortly after, presumably fearing arrest himself, Dread Pirate Roberts abruptly halted the site’s functionality, including its escrow system, and a temporary administrator known as Defcon took over, promising to make it operational again.
Growth, Then Seizure
2014 saw a period of rebuilding and then huge growth for Silk Road 2.0, not helped by a hack that saw $2.7 million worth of BTC stolen from their escrow account. Nevertheless the site grew and grew, but so did the investigations against the ringleaders. On November 6, a year to the day that the site launched, it was announced that Defcon, real name Blake Benthall, had been arrested in San Francisco and the site was shuttered by the FBI,with the promised 15-minute reloads not appearing. Website creator Thomas White was also arrested as part of the same operation, and the enterprise was officially over.
The Law Catches up with Site Operators
The years since Silk Road 2.0 was shut down have been dominated by court cases, with Silk Road 2.0 and the original Silk Road offences taken into consideration for those involved in both. The following sentences have since been handed down:
- Blake Benthall (site operator, aka ‘Defcon’) – eight years
- Thomas White (Silk Road 2.0 creator) – five years and four months
- Andrew Jones (site administrator, aka ‘Inigo’) – five and a half years
- Gary Davis (site administrator, aka ‘Libertas’) – six and a half years
- Peter Nash (site moderator, aka ‘samesamebutdifferent’) – seventeen months
Despite its short life, Silk Road 2.0 nevertheless made an impact. At its peak, it was generating sales of at least $8 million per month, and at the time of Benthall’s arrest, an FBI special agent described it as “one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and widely used criminal marketplaces on the internet today.” Other copycat sites still exist, including a Silk Road 3, but with the authorities now on the lookout for such activity and with the tools to act in a quicker and more comprehensive way, it’s likely that Silk Road 2.0 was the last of the big boys.