Silk Road's Libertas to be extradited to face hacking conspiracy charges

An alleged site administrator for the now defunct- Silk Road is to be extradited to the US to face justice for facilitating the sale of malware

During the Silk Road’s short life, millions of pounds were exchanged for malware and drugs among a bounty of other illicit products (credit: Dragoyx via Wikimedia Commons)
During the Silk Road’s short life, millions of pounds were exchanged for malware and drugs among a bounty of other illicit products (credit: Dragoyx via Wikimedia Commons)

Gary Davis, whom an American court allege to be one of the Silk Road's key lieutenants, Libertas, is to be extradited from Ireland to the US to face charges involving drug trafficking and computer hacking.

Irish-born Davis was delivered the verdict on 12 August in the Irish High Court by Justice Paul McDermott. 

While famous for selling any number of illegal narcotics including LSD and Heroin, the Silk Road also sold several other illicit products including malware.

The allegations levelled at Davis by American courts say that from June to October 2013, Gary Davis was a site administrator for the Silk Road and “knowingly worked with others to facilitate the distribution of malicious software through the Silk Road website knowing that Silk Road users of such software intended to use it to commit computer hacking."

The arrest warrant issued in New York states that the Silk Road provided a platform for buying and selling products such as passwords stealers, key-loggers and remote access tools. While the Silk Road was active it supposedly had hundreds of listings advertising such products and services.

One listing offered services for hacking into the social media accounts of the customers' choice so “you can Read, Write, Upload, Delete, View all Personal Info”.

As of September 2013, there were 801 listings titled ‘digital goods' which included hacked Amazon and Netflix accounts. One entry titled  Huge Hacking Pack, offered 150 hacking tools  “loaded with keyloggers, RATs, Banking Trojans and other various malware”.

The sale of these kind of products allows nearly anyone to become a successful cyber-criminal, Raj Samani, CTO EMEA at Intel Security told SCMagazineUK.com.

“The accessibility of tools as entitled within the judgement under ‘Huge Hacking Pack' is facilitating the growth of attacks by making malicious tools available to anybody with the means to pay.”

He added, “this trend of crimeware as a service is sadly not restricted to Silk Road with many new marketplaces becoming available, facilitating less technically skilled individuals/groups' ability to acquire new nefarious digital goods.”

A warrant for the arrest was issued by Judge James C Francis IV of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on 5th December 2013. Davis was to be tried on three counts: conspiracy to distribute drugs, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit computer hacking.

The combined charges carry a term which may well see Davis serving far more than a life sentence if found guilty by an American court.

Davis contended that his extradition to the US would be in clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, adding that, were he found guilty, he would be subjected to inhumane treatment in the US prison system, which would likely be exacerbated by his Asperger's syndrome and history of depression.  Similar claims were made by Lauri Love recently, a hacker charged with hacking into the FBI and NASA networks.

The contention was rejected by the High Court along with Davis' claim that he committed the crimes in Ireland and so should be tried on Irish soil.

In his admittedly short time at the Silk Road, Davis allegedly worked under Dread Pirate Roberts, also known as Ross William Ulbricht, who founded the illicit marketplace.

Ulbricht is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York.

The evidence against Davis, his accusers claim, is a scan of his passport was found on a computer seized in connection with the arrest of Ulbricht. The computer contained a file entitled ‘IDs' which stored the identification of Ulbricht's employees which he required to pay them.

Steve Armstrong, managing director of Logically Secure told SC: “Submitting a scan of your passport to a hacker so you can get paid to support their illegal activities is never a good idea as your safety and security are now the responsibility of a third party.  While I would love to say don't submit your passport to other hackers as part of your hacking-team ‘on-boarding', I would rather see law enforcement getting more opportunities to catch bad guys.”

On the question of extradition, Armstrong said, “While there are those with concerns about the safety and security of non-US citizens in US detention centers, the counter argument is often ‘don't break US laws on the Internet as they will come after you.'  Furthermore, as this extradition demonstrates, when they have good strong evidence, the European/UK law enforcement and courts will side on enforcing the extradition request.”

The Silk Road was shut down in October 2013. Its short lived successor, Silk Road 2.0, was shut down in November 2014 in a joint effort by the FBI and Europol.

Editor's note: This article previously did not make a clear enough distinction between the judgement of the Irish High Court and allegations of the american court which Gary Davis will be extradited to face. It was changed to clarify that fact on 26/08/2016. SC Magazine UK apologises for these inaccuracies.

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