Three of the men who took down the infamous dark web drug marketplace Silk Road have launched a company helping cops trace cryptocurrency and do complex dark web investigations.
Called Naxo Labs, it officially launches on Thursday and is helmed by former FBI agents Chris Tarbell and Tom Kiernan, alongside Matt Edman, an ex-FBI contractor. They all were instrumental in finding Ross Ulbricht, the Silk Road founder, closing the site and seizing its $1 billion in bitcoin. The fourth cofounder, David Franzel, is a cybercrime expert and longtime government contractor, with expertise in investigating crimes in the Middle East.
Despite only setting up earlier this year in Manhattan, the company has already penned an $8 million deal with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), government contract records show. Naxo is providing software to the agency’s Cyber Crimes Center, though the company wouldn’t offer details on the work. (ICE hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.) Tarbell said the company also has contracts with the Securities Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice, along with a number of government customers that the four cofounders previously worked with in their former roles at the New York consultancy Berkeley Research Group (BRG).
Naxo also has a business helping individuals recover cryptocurrency locked on hard drives. That’s to cater to those who have forgotten the password to their crypto wallets, such as German developer Stefan Thomas, who last year claimed to have $240 million in Bitcoin on a hard drive that he couldn’t access. Thomas still cannot access the funds, but has been in touch with the Naxo team this month to discuss a potential hack into the wallet, Edman said. No deal has been signed, however, and Thomas hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
Wallet recovery is more of a side gig, said Edman. The main customer base will be federal law enforcement agencies who need deep technical expertise to dig into data on encrypted phones and laptops, carry out dark web investigations and trace crypto.
“We were doing the crypto stuff before there was Chainalysis,” said Tarbell, referencing the $8.6 billion cryptocurrency tracking firm that has numerous contracts with American law enforcement. He claimed that long history in developing bespoke tools for government agencies was what set it apart from the competition.
It’ll also do private investigations for individuals and corporate entities, though each client will go through an ethics check to make sure the company isn’t profiting from illegally obtained cryptocurrency. “If a dark web drug lord comes over and says, ‘I’ve lost the password to my wallet,’ we probably don’t want that,” Edman said.
Tarbell, who also led investigations into hacktivist collective LulzSec in the 2010s, is also moving into podcasts. He’s co-hosting a show with Hector Monsegur, a former member of LulzSec who Tarbell turned into an informant on his fellow hackers.