A secretive online black market was robbed over the weekend, costing its users possibly as much as $100 million in Bitcoins — and some say the thieves were the marketplace owners themselves.
Like Silk Road and most of its ilk, Sheep Marketplace was only accessible via Tor, the anonymizing software designed to protect users’ Internet anonymity. Furthermore, all transactions were in Bitcoin, a decentralized online currency that is difficult to trace.
Sheep Marketplace went down on Saturday claiming that one of Sheep Marketplace’s vendors exploited a security flaw and stole 5,400 BTC ($6 million at its current value), reports Mashable.
“We are sorry to say, but we were robbed on Saturday 11/21/2013 by vendor EBOOK101. This vendor found bug in system and stole 5400 BTC – your money, our provisions, all was stolen. We were trying to resolve this problem, but we were not successful. We are sorry for your problems and inconvenience, all of current BTC will be ditributed to users, who have filled correct BTC emergency adress [sic]. I would like to thank to all SheepMarketplace moderators by this, who were helping with this problem. I am very sorry for this situation. Thank you all.”
Bicoin’s value has surged in recent weeks, peaking at an astonishing $1,203 per coin last week before dropping back nearly $200 in value over the weekend. The Bitcoin exchange rate is climbing again and currently rests at $1,102 per coin, meaning that the value of the heist is currently $105,792,000.
Despite the message’s promise that “all of current BTC will be distributed to users, who have filled correct BTC emergency address,” it doesn’t appear that any Sheep Marketplace users have received refunds.
On Monday, a Redditor nicknamed sheeproadreloaded2 claimed to identify a transfer of 96,000 stolen bitcoins. Along with another Redditor, sheeproadreloaded2 kept track of the money as it moved through Blockchain, the public repository of all bitcoin transactions.
“We’ve been chasing the scoundrel with our stolen bitcoins through the blockchain,” sheeproadreloaded2 wrote. “Around lunchtime (UK), I was chasing him across the roof of a moving train, (metaphorically). I was less than 20 minutes, or 2 blockchain confirmations, behind ‘Tomas.'”
According to a post on Hacker News, a wallet of far more Bitcoins has been traced back to the site.
In the days before the site shut down, vendors suddenly found themselves unable to access the Bitcoins tied up in the site’s wallet. The admins blamed the problem on a technical glitch and said it would be fixed within a few days. They then said the problem was fixed, though on Reddit, former Sheep Marketplace users say that was never the case.
At the same time, it was noticed that market moderators had started offering bulk drug purchases if people would pay first rather than keeping the money in an escrow account.
“They know Sheep is closing and so they are reducing all prices, introducing new products, and making everyone [finalize transactions early] to try and take as much as they can,” wrote the author.
Now, many believe they were being bilked out of as many of their Bitcoins—a difficult to trace form of online currency currently worth over $1,000 a piece—as possible before taking the money and running, says the Daily Mail.