Seized Silk Road wallet payments in Shadow Brokers exploit auction come under scrutiny

UPDATED: Is the US government at play, or are these payments no more than spam?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Bitcoin appears to be moving from a seized wallet to the Shadow Brokers auction, raising suspicions that the US government is potentially bidding to prevent stolen NSA exploits and tools from ending up in the wrong hands -- again.

Last week, a group calling itself the "Shadow Brokers" offered up what it claimed to be a treasure trove of exploits, software, and tools used by the US National Security Agency (NSA)'s Equation Group to the highest bidder.

The Equation Group, considered one of the most sophisticated and dangerous teams in existence, uses a variety of sophisticated tools and zero-day vulnerabilities to spy on targets and compromise PCs without being detected.

The Shadow Brokers sent out an open invitation to interested bidders, providing a small "sample" of the resources on offer.

The auction was viewed with doubt as no one had heard of the cyberattack group, and without access to the full cache, there was little proof that the claims were nothing more than a hoax.

However, newly released documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden appear to show the leak is legitimate.

In addition, Cisco and Fortinet have both confirmed their products are affected by the malware and the firms' security teams are already on task to patch vulnerable software.

At the same time as these revelations, security researcher krypt3ia revealed the results of an interesting investigation into how the auction is allegedly going.

Late last week, krypt3ia said in a blog post that while the Shadow Brokers' auction has generated marginal interest and some payments, a portion of the proceeds appears to be becoming from the Silk Road Bitcoin wallet, which was seized by the FBI after the underground marketplace was closed down in 2013.


"So, is this to say that these coins are still in the coffers of the feds and they are being sent to ShadowBrokers to chum the water here?," krypt3ia claimed. "Maybe get a conversation going? Maybe to get the bitcoins flying so others can trace some taint?

Of course once you start to look at that address and the coins in and out there you get some other interesting hits. Suddenly you are seeing US Marshall service as well being in that loop."

See also: Is blockchain revolutionary, or just another infrastructure support technology?

It could be that the US government is testing the waters and participating in order to try and trace anyone interested in purchasing the cache -- or to buy it themselves as part of damage limitation. Whatever the reason, these kinds of payments have not revealed why a slice of the confiscated Silk Road Bitcoin is being used -- nor by who.

While the Shadow Brokers' dreams of raising one million Bitcoins -- the equivalent of $580,630,000 -- is unlikely, confirmation of the sample's validity and the US government's reported interest may raise the value of future bids.

Update 14.19 GMT: Bitcoin experts have raised questions over the validity of krypt3ia's claims.

According to Jonathan Levin, CRO and co-founder of Bitcoin investigation company Chain Analysis, the issue is not clear-cut -- and may not exist at all. Levin told ZDNet that the payments being made through the scrutinized wallet are also going the other way.

The executive says the payment chain is likely due to spam, which means the US government may have nothing to do with the auction and this is simply the work of other individuals. Levin commented:

"In Bitcoin, people like to send small payments to addresses, sometimes with embedded messages, sometimes without. Any famous address attracts a lot of spam.
The Silk Road seized coins and this auction are no exception. In this case, the same person who is spamming the Auction address is also spamming the seized coin address."

At the time of writing, the Shadow Brokers' auction has netted a total of 1.761 BTC, which equates to approximately $1,022.

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