Reporter looking to talk about the Silk Road Case / Special Agent Chris Tarbell

Matthew Phelan matthew.phelan at
Fri Feb 13 19:34:29 UTC 2015

Hey all, esteemed members of this Nginx mailing list.

I'm a freelance reporter (former Onion headline writer and former chemical
engineer) trying to gather some kind of technical consensus on a part of
the Silk Road pretrial that seems to have become mired in needless
ambiguity. Specifically, the prosecution's explanation for how they were
able to locate the Silk Road's Icelandic server IP address.

You may have seen Australian hacker Nik Cubrilovic's long piece
<> on how
it, at least, appears that the government has submitted a deeply
implausible scenario for how they came to locate the Silk Road server. Or Bruce
Scheiener's comments
<>. Or
someone else's. (The court records are hyperlinked in the article, but they
can be found here
and here
if you'd rather peruse them without Nik's logic prejudicing your own
opinion. In addition, here
the opinion of defendant Ross Ulbricht's lawyer Josh Horowitz, himself a
technical expert in this field, wherein he echoes Nik Cubrilovic's critical
interpretation of the state's discovery disclosures.)

I'm hoping that your collective area of expertise in Nginx might allow some
of you to comment on this portion of the case, ideally on the record, for
an article I'm working on.

My goal is to amass many expert opinions on this. It seems like a very open
and shut case that beat reporters covering it last October gave a little
too much "He said. She said."-style false equivalency.

I know this is a cold call. PLEASED TO MEET YOU!

*Here, below, is the main question, I believe:*

This portion of the defense's expert criticism
<> of the
prosecution's testimony from former SA Chris Tarbell
(at least) appears the most clear cut and definitive:

¶ 7. Without identification by the Government, it was impossible to
pinpoint the 19 lines in the access logs showing the date and time of law
enforcement access to the .49 server.

23. The “live-ssl” configuration controls access to the market data
contained on the .49 server. This is evident from the configuration line:
          root /var/www/market/public
which tells the Nginx web server that the folder “public” contains the
website content to load when visitors access the site.

24. The critical configuration lines from the live-ssl file are:
          deny all;
These lines tell the web server to allow access from IP addresses
and, and to deny all other IP addresses from connecting to the
web server. IP address is commonly referred to in computer
networking as “localhost” i.e., the machine itself, which would allow the
server to connect to itself., as discussed ante, is the IP
address for the front-end server, which must be permitted to access the
back-end server. The “deny all” line tells the web server to deny
connections from any IP address for which there is no specific exception

25. Based on this configuration, it would have been impossible for Special
Agent Tarbell to access the portion of the .49 server containing the Silk
Road market data, including a portion of the login page, simply by entering
the IP address of the server in his browser.

Does it seem like the defense is making a reasonably sound argument here?
Are there any glaring holes in their reasoning to you? Etc.? (I would
gladly rather have an answer to this that is filled with qualifiers and
hedges than no answer at all, and as such, hereby promise that I will
felicitously include all those qualifiers and hedges when quoting.)

Any other observations on this pre-trail debate would also be welcome.

Thanks for your time, very, very, sincerely.

Best Regards,

*Matthew D. Phelan*
"editorial contractor"

*Black Bag ▴ Gawker <>*
@CBMDP <> // twitter
917.859.1266 // cellular telephone
matthew.phelan at // PGP Public Key
<> // email
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