British hacker behind dark web site Silk Road jailed for five years

Thomas White, a 24-year-old hacker who discreetly ran a Dark Web site known as Silk Road to anonymously sell drugs, computer hacking tools, and other illegal goods, has been jailed for five years and four months by the Liverpool Crown Court.

White was initially an administrator of a Dark Web site called Silk Road but after FBI shut down the site, he launched another site known as Silk Road 2.0 and ran it from November 2013 to March 2014. Through this website, White arranged the sales and purchases of illegal drugs, computer hacking tools, as well as images of child sexual abuse.

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Silk Road 2.0 served as a popular Dark Web marketplace

According to the National Crime Agency, Silk Road 2.0 was so popular among drug peddlers, paedophiles, and hackers that around 96 million dollars’ worth of goods were traded on the site in just a few months. White earned a lot of money in the period by charging between 1 and 5% commission on each sale from thousands of customers.

White was first arrested in November 2014 and then again in early 2017 when NCA found clinching evidence concerning his involvement in the sale of illegal drugs, hacking tools, and child sex images. In his computers, NCA investigators found 64 category A (the most severe) indecent images of children and 50 bitcoins with a current value of around £192,000.

British hacker behind dark web site Silk Road jailed for five years

Thomas White (Image source: National Crime Agency)

NCA also recovered vast amounts of data from his computers that included "data hacked from the FBI, NASA, the FBI, users' details from Ashley Madison, a website billed as enabling extramarital affairs, the database of the US Fraternal Order of the Police - the equivalent of the UK's Police Federation - and customer details of UK broadband provider TalkTalk".

"Thomas White and his online associates believed they could use the dark web to anonymously commit crimes with impunity. But this case shows that those who try to hide behind the apparent security of anonymising software will be identified and brought to justice," said Ian Glover from the National Crime Agency.

"White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy. He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down. We believe he profited significantly from his crimes which will now be subject to a proceeds of crime investigation. Close working with American partners in the FBI, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice has resulted in the takedown of global illegal drug empires and the targeting of associated money laundering, primarily involving crypto-currencies.

"This has been a complex, international investigation and follows previous investigations led by the NCA into dark web criminality, and working with our international partners, the UK is fast becoming an increasingly hostile environment for dark web crime," Glover added.

NCA is slowly winning the war against Dark Web hackers

This is the second such instance of British hackers being jailed for carrying out a range of cyber crimes in as many months. In April, a British hacker named Zain Qaiser, who is of the same age as White, was sentenced to six-and-a-half-years in prison for targeting millions of computer users in more than twenty countries with ransomware attacks and blackmailing them into paying more than £700,000 in ransom between 2012 and 2018.

According to NCA, Qaiser belonged to "one of the most sophisticated, serious and organised cyber crime groups the National Crime Agency has ever investigated". Qaiser created an online account named K!NG and used fraudulent identities and bogus companies to purchase large amounts of advertising traffic from pornographic websites. Once advertising space was obtained on a site, Qaiser and his cyber-crime associates hosted and posted advertisements laced with malware.

One such malware used frequently by Qaiser was Reveton – a malware that would lock a user’s browser. "Once locked, the infected device would display a message purporting to be from a law enforcement or a government agency, which claimed an offence had been committed and the victim had to pay a fine of anything between $300-$1,000 in order to unlock their device. The campaign infected millions of computers worldwide across multiple jurisdictions," the NCA noted.

In January this year, the Blackfriars Crown Court also sentenced a Surrey-based hacker named Daniel Kaye to 32 months in prison for launching a devastating DDoS attack on Liberian mobile network Lonestar that cost the company millions of pounds in lost revenue between October 2016 and February 2017.

Aside from taking down Lonestar's network, Kaye is also accused of launching DDoS attacks using the Mirai £14 botnet on Lloyds, Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Barclays banks in 2017. He was arrested and extradited from Germany in September last year following a detailed investigation carried out by the National Crime Agency, and was subsequently slapped with nine charges under the Computer Misuse Act and other charges for blackmailing and possessing criminal property.

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