Archive for the ‘FBI’ Category

silk road

From an Internet café in San Francisco, a 29-year-old free-market evangelist who called himself “Dread Pirate Roberts” used untraceable web services, an international network of servers and anonymous digital currency to run a global online exchange of cocaine and heroin beyond the reach of the law.

For two years, cybercrime experts from the FBI pored over the secretive online drug bazaar known as Silk Road — an underground operation that had become, by the time the FBI shut it down this week, the venue for $1 billion worth of illegal transactions, according to prosecutors. Seeking the mastermind behind it, investigators began picking up clues: an anonymous posting to a website devoted to hallucinogenic mushrooms, recurring references to an Austrian school of economics, and early clues left on public sites including Google and LinkedIn.

A big break came in July, when a routine inspection of inbound mail from Canada turned up a parcel containing nine counterfeit IDs — each with a different name, but all featuring the photograph of the same man.

According to a 33-page criminal complaint unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court, the man in the ID photos was Ross Ulbricht, Silk Road’s alleged overseer. FBI agents arrested Ulbricht in San Francisco the same day at the Glen Park library in San Francisco, where he had gone to log onto a computer, according to a person briefed on the matter.

The criminal complaint against Ulbricht depicts the dark side of Internet commerce. In it, special agent Christopher Tarbell of the FBI’s New York office described Silk Road as “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today” — a virtual bazaar where buyers could find everything from heroin and hacking software to contact information for hit men in more than 10 different countries.

Meanwhile, on July 10 of this year, customs officials intercepted the package from Canada as part of what the complaint characterized as a routine inspection. The package, addressed to an apartment on 15th Street in San Francisco, contained nine counterfeit IDs, each in a different name, but all featuring a photo of the same person.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations arrived on July 26 at the 15th Street address. There, according to the complaint, they encountered Ross Ulbricht, whose photo matched those on all nine fake IDs.

Confronted with a fake California driver’s license bearing his photo and birthdate but a different name, Ulbricht avoided answering questions about the purchase of false IDs, according to the complaint. Instead, he volunteered that “hypothetically” anyone could go onto a website named Silk Road and purchase any drugs or counterfeit IDs they wanted. Ulbricht then produced his real ID, a Texas driver’s license, according to the complaint, and explained that he was subletting a room in the apartment for $1,000 a month. According to the complaint, he also said the roommates knew him as “Josh.”

Ulbricht stands accused of narcotics trafficking, money laundering, computer-hacking conspiracy and, in an indictment unsealed yesterday in Maryland, of attempted murder.

Bitcoin Bets Feed Twitter Dreams as Regulators CircleCyber Drug Bazaar’s Alleged Boss Paired EBay Style, Crime
The genius of Silk Road’s design and the reason it eluded the FBI’s grasp for so long, according to the complaint, was its impenetrability. The site was accessible only on a so-called tor network, which is designed to conceal the true Internet addresses of computers using it. Its exclusive reliance on Bitcoin, an anonymous digital currency, added another layer of protection for its buyers and sellers.

Since November 2011, Tarbell’s team made more than 100 purchases of drugs from Silk Road vendors, accepting shipments of ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, LSD and other drugs posted from 10 different countries, including the U.S., according to the complaint.

In the FBI’s bid to identify the individual behind Silk Road, an agent on Tarbell’s team combed through Internet postings and discovered the earliest mention of the site on shroomery.org, an informational website for consumers of “magic mushrooms,” in January 2011.

The posting, from someone with the username altoid, alerted the site’s visitors to Silk Road and asked if anyone had tried it. Two days later, someone using the same username posted a similar message on “bitcointalk.org,” a discussion forum for the virtual currency.

“The two postings created by ’altoid’ on Shroomery and Bitcoin Talk appear to be attempts to generate interest in the site,” Tarbell wrote. “The fact that ’altoid’ posted similar messages about the site on two very different discussion forums, two days apart, indicates that ’altoid’ was visiting various discussion forums…and seeking to publicize the site among the forum users — which, based on my training and experience, is a common online marketing tactic for new websites.”

In October 2011, altoid surfaced again on the Bitcoin forum, seeking an “IT pro” to help build a Bitcoin startup company and directing potential job candidates to the Gmail account of someone named Ross Ulbricht. From a Google profile associated with the account, the FBI learned that Ulbricht had an interest in the Austrian school of economics and the Auburn, Alabama-based Ludwig von Mises Institute. According to the group’s website, it functions as a center of Libertarian political and social theory.

Similar sentiments are voiced on a page of professional networking site LinkedIn that is also attributed to Ulbricht, according to the complaint. In a LinkedIn profile accessed yesterday, a user identified as Ross Ulbricht describes himself as an “investment adviser and entrepreneur” and lists his interests as “trading, economics, physics, virtual worlds, liberty.”

Agents made a connection between Ulbricht and Silk Road: The site’s webmaster, who identified himself as Dread Pirate Roberts, made regular references to Austrian economic theory and the teachings of Mises to justify Silk Road’s existence.

The New York FBI agents weren’t the only lawmen gunning for Silk Road. In April 2012, a federal agent in Maryland began communicating with Dread Pirate Roberts in an undercover capacity, posing as a drug dealer.

In January, the undercover agent completed the sale of a small quantity of cocaine to a Silk Road employee and was paid the equivalent of $27,000 in Bitcoin currency. According to the Maryland indictment, Dread Pirate Roberts subsequently asked the undercover agent to murder an employee the site overseer believed to have stolen money from Silk Road.

During this time, Tarbell’s team in New York tracked the Silk Road webmaster’s online logins to an Internet café on Laguna Street in San Francisco, near an apartment where Ulbricht had moved.

Following the confrontation, Tarbell and his team learned that in the weeks leading up to the discovery of the counterfeit identity papers, Dread Pirate Roberts had sent a series of private e-mails suggesting that he “needed a fake ID,” according to the complaint.

All the while, word of Silk Road and its bazaar of illicit goods and services spread around the Internet. In August, Forbes.com posted an interview with Dread Pirate Roberts that it said was conducted via messages sent through the site. “The highest levels of government are hunting me,” the cyber entrepreneur said, adding: “I can’t take any chances.”

Yesterday afternoon, Ulbricht surfaced at San Francisco’s Glen Park library, a small branch facility where public computers are located in front of the check-out desk. There, according to the person familiar with the matter, he was arrested by the FBI.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 13-mg-023287; the civil forfeiture case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 13-cv-06919, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Farrell in New York at gregfarrell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-10-03/fbi-captures-alleged-silk-road-pirate-boss-using-his-own-methods#p2

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

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Branaby Jack

The mysterious death of a San Francisco “ethical hacker,” who was set to give a speech on infiltrating wireless implantable medical devices, has caused speculation that he was the victim of a targeted attack, and raised alarm about the safety of devices such as pacemakers.

Professional hacker Barnaby Jack, who famously demonstrated how to make ATMs spit out cash, was set to reveal the secrets of how implantable medical devices, specifically pacemakers, can be hacked, in a talk scheduled for last Thursday at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas.

“He was able to remotely exploit them, and this talk was really dedicated to how the manufacturers could improve the security of the device,” IOactive CEO Jennifer Steffens said.

But his girlfriend found the 35-year-old dead in his San Francisco home July 25. The cause of death is still under investigation, according to the San Francisco coroner’s office.

Police say they have ruled out foul play, but the cause of death might not be determined by the medical examiner for another month.

Jack dedicated his career to exposing the vulnerabilities hackers can exploit. The title of his scheduled talk at the Black Hat security conference was “Implantable Medical Devices: Hacking Humans,” and he planned to discuss how these devices “operate and communicate, and the security shortcomings of the current protocols,” according to the Black Hat website.

“He wanted to know, how could that stuff down there fail, and especially how it could fail if there were some not nice people out there trying to make it crash,” security researcher Dan Kaminsky said.

Jack’s research into the possibility of hacking medical devices is reminiscent of the plot twist in the end of the second season of the Emmy-award winning series “Homeland,” in which the fictional vice president was killed when his pacemaker was hacked by terrorists.

That scene got people wondering whether it is possible to hack implantable medical devices. In an interview with Bloomberg News before his death, Jack said that the answer is yes.

“Once I took a look, I was actually shocked to see how many vulnerabilities existed,” Jack said.

The FDA said in a statement that there is no cause for alarm for the nearly 3 million Americans who have pacemakers.

“[The FDA] is not aware of any patient injuries or deaths associated with these incidents, nor do we have any indication that any specific devices or systems in clinical use have been purposely targeted at this time,” the regulatory agency said.

Meanwhile, questions — and even conspiracy theories — are swirling around the Web regarding Jacks’ untimely death, with some even blaming the U.S. government.

“This is an industry where a lot of money and danger is at stake,” ABC News consultant and former FBI Agent Brad Garrett said. “The work he was doing certainly put him at some risk,” ABC News consultant and former FBI Agent Brad Garrett said.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/hackers-mysterious-death-prompts-conspiracy-theories-concerns-pacemakers/story?id=19868557

brandon-raub-released_s640x427

A former Marine involuntarily detained for psychiatric evaluation for posting strident anti-government messages on Facebook has received an outpouring of support from people who say authorities are trampling on his First Amendment rights.

Brandon J. Raub, 26, has been in custody since FBI, Secret Service agents and police in Virginia’s Chesterfield County questioned him Thursday evening about what they said were ominous posts talking about a coming revolution. In one message earlier this month according to authorities, Raub wrote: “Sharpen my axe; I’m here to sever heads.”

Police – acting under a state law that allows emergency, temporary psychiatric commitments upon the recommendation of a mental health professional – took Raub to the John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell. He was not charged with any crime.

A Virginia-based civil liberties group, The Rutherford Institute, dispatched one of its attorneys to the hospital to represent Raub at a hearing Monday. A judge ordered Raub detained for another month, Rutherford executive director John Whitehead said.

“For government officials to not only arrest Brandon Raub for doing nothing more than exercising his First Amendment rights but to actually force him to undergo psychological evaluations and detain him against his will goes against every constitutional principle this country was founded upon,” Whitehead said.

Raub’s mother, Cathleen Thomas, said by telephone that the government had overstepped its bounds.

“The bottom line is his freedom of speech has been violated,” she said.

Thomas said her son, who served tours as a combat engineer in Iraq and Afghanistan, is “concerned about all the wars we’ve experienced” and believes the U.S. government was complicit in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One of his Facebook posts, she said, pictured the gaping hole in the Pentagon and asked “where’s the plane?”

Whitehead said he found nothing alarming in Raub’s social media commentaries. “The posts I read that supposedly were of concern were libertarian-type posts I see all the time,” he said.

The big concern, Whitehead said, is whether government officials are monitoring citizens’ private Facebook pages and detaining people with whom they disagree.

Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman in Richmond, said there was no Facebook snooping by her agency.

“We received quite a few complaints about what were perceived as threatening posts,” she said. “Given the circumstances with the things that have gone on in the country with some of these mass shootings, it would be horrible for law enforcement not to pay attention to complaints.”

Whitehead said some of the posts in question were made on a closed Facebook page that Raub had recently created so he questioned whether anyone from the public would have complained about them.

“Support Brandon Raub” Facebook pages have drawn significant interest, and other Internet sites had numerous comments from people outraged by the veteran’s detention.

Raub’s supporters characterized the detention as an arrest, complaining he was handcuffed and whisked away in a police cruiser without being served a warrant or read his rights. But authorities say it wasn’t an arrest because Raub doesn’t face criminal charges.

Col. Thierry Dupuis, the county police chief, said Raub was taken into custody upon the recommendation of mental health crisis intervention workers. He said the action was taken under the state’s emergency custody statute, which allows a magistrate to order the civil detention and psychiatric evaluation of a person who is considered potentially dangerous.

He said Raub was handcuffed because he resisted officers’ attempts to take him into custody.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/brandon-j-raub-marine-detained_n_1817484.html

Thanks to Dr. Mike Moore for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

sn-trustworthiness

Despite long experience with the ways of the world, older people are especially vulnerable to fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), up to 80% of scam victims are over 65. One explanation may lie in a brain region that serves as a built-in crook detector. Called the anterior insula, this structure—which fires up in response to the face of an unsavory character—is less active in older people, possibly making them less cagey than younger folks, a new study finds.

Both FTC and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have found that older people are easy marks due in part to their tendency to accentuate the positive. According to social neuroscientist Shelley Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles, research backs up the idea that older people can put a positive spin on things—emotionally charged pictures, for example, and playing virtual games in which they risk the loss of money. “Older people are good at regulating their emotions, seeing things in a positive light, and not overreacting to everyday problems,” she says. But this trait may make them less wary.

To see if older people really are less able to spot a shyster, Taylor and colleagues showed photos of faces considered trustworthy, neutral, or untrustworthy to a group of 119 older adults (ages 55 to 84) and 24 younger adults (ages 20 to 42). Signs of untrustworthiness include averted eyes; an insincere smile that doesn’t reach the eyes; a smug, smirky mouth; and a backward tilt to the head. The participants were asked to rate each face on a scale from -3 (very untrustworthy) to 3 (very trustworthy).

In the study, appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the “untrustworthy” faces were perceived as significantly more trustworthy by the older subjects than by the younger ones. The researchers then performed the same test on a different set of volunteers, this time imaging their brains during the process, to look for differences in brain activity between the age groups. In the younger subjects, when asked to judge whether the faces were trustworthy, the anterior insula became active; the activity increased at the sight of an untrustworthy face. The older people, however, showed little or no activation.

Taylor explains that the insula’s job is to collect information not about others but about one’s own body—sensing feelings, including “gut instincts”—and present that information to the rest of the brain. “It’s a warning bell that doesn’t seem to work as well in older people.” By habitually seeing the world in a positive light, older people may be overriding this warning signal, she says. “It looks like the brain is conspiring with what older people do naturally.”

Whether the insula activates in response to non-facial cues, such as telephone scams (a particular problem for older people), remains unclear, says Taylor, since the study was limited to faces.

The new study is the first to show a characteristic pattern of brain activation in a “social” situation involving the assessment of another person’s trustworthiness, says psychologist Lisbeth Nielsen of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Bethesda, Maryland. (Though NIA funded the project, Nielsen was not involved in the study.)

A question to be addressed in future research, she says, is whether decreased activity in the insula is the cause or the effect of older peoples’ more positive outlook. “It may be that older people engage with the world in a certain way and this is reflected in the brain activity.”

If so, she adds, older people could work on becoming more cautious. For example, they could be taught to look out for the facial signs of untrustworthiness. “Just because the insula isn’t being activated doesn’t mean it can’t be.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/12/why-old-people-get-scammed.html?ref=hp