Bitcoin Security

U.S. Govt. Seizes $1B in Bitcoin from Hacker of Darknet Marketplace Silk Road

The DOJ revealed that it had seized the nearly 70,000 BTC from an "Individual X" who had stolen the crypto through a hack of the Silk Road circa 2012 or 2013.
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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) shut down the infamous Silk Road darknet marketplace back in 2013, yet the saga — which has been intricately linked with bitcoin (BTC) since it was the platform’s currency of choice — continues to thicken.

That’s because earlier this week, the fourth-largest bitcoin wallet moved 69,369 bitcoins — roughly $1 billion USD at the time — and sent Bitcoin blockchain observers into a frenzy.

Speculation mounted as to what happened, and some folks quickly honed in on the possibility that the address responsible — 1HQ3Go3ggs8pFnXuHVHRytPCq5fGG8Hbhx — was in some way linked to the Silk Road.

That speculation was confirmed on Thursday, November 5th, when the DOJ revealed that it had seized the nearly 70,000 BTC from an “Individual X” who had stolen the crypto through a hack of the Silk Road circa 2012 or 2013.

Finding Individual X

Per the DOJ’s November 5th court filing, it’s clear that America’s law enforcement officials were able to track down the “1HQ3″ address’s owner by employing the services of renowned blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis.

Through Chainalysis, these officials were able to analyze Bitcoin transactions executed by Silk Road.” At this point, they discerned 54 notable transactions to two addresses, with most of the funds therein ending up in the “1HQ3” address in April 2013. Analysts determined the problematic nature of the address due to the peculiar way that funds flowed to it:

“For example, 10 of the transfers occurred at approximately 3:59 a.m. and each transfer was for exactly 2,500 Bitcoin. This pattern of withdrawals and the amount that was withdrawn was not typical for a Silk Road user … These 54 transactions were not noted in the Silk Road database as a vendor withdrawal or a Silk Road employee withdrawal and therefore appear to represent Bitcoin that was stolen from Silk Road.”

So with investigators concluding a hacker afoot, the hunt was now on. And the predators were more than well-enough equipped to snag their prey. “Individual X, whose identity is known to the government, was determined to have been involved in a transaction that related to 1HQ3,” the DOJ said.

What Happened Next?

According to the DOJ’s court filing, Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht was aware of the massive theft of BTC from the marketplace back in 2013 and even went as far to threaten Individual X to return the funds, though the hacker never did.

Whatever happened in the ensuing years was enough to give U.S. officials enough of a lead to find Individual X, as investigators received consent from the person to seize the 69,369 bitcoin on November 3rd, 2020, at which point they were taken into custody by the authorities. Shortly thereafter, U.S. officials took control of the $1B BTC trove.

Don’t Forget About the Forks

We’ve seen a number of prominent Bitcoin forks pop up in recent years, like Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and beyond. Accordingly, this reality means the DOJ hasn’t just made off with a sizable BTC trove, but also sizeable allocations of assets like BCH, Bitcoin Gold (BTG), and Bitcoin SV (BSV).

The next step for the U.S. government, then, is to auction off all of these holdings in large chunks to public bidders.

Boon from Bullish BTC

When Individual X hacked nearly 70,000 BTC from the Silk Road, the holdings were worth roughly ~$350,000 at the time.

However, the BTC price has appreciated considerably in recent years, and moreover in 2020 we’ve seen the cryptoeconomy enter another bull market and the BTC price creep above $15,000 once more.

That said, the DOJ’s seizure from Individual X is worth $1B because the crypto ecosystem has grown rapidly in recent years. Accordingly, the U.S. government will make off with a big payday at their coming crypto auctions.



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William M. Peaster is a professional writer and editor who specializes in the Ethereum, Dai, and Bitcoin beats in the cryptoeconomy. He's appeared in Blockonomi, Binance Academy, Bitsonline, and more. He enjoys tracking smart contracts, DAOs, dApps, and the Lightning Network. He's learning Solidity, too! Contact him on Telegram at @wmpeaster

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