Lafayette employee investigated

Matthew Mitterhoff

By Matt Mitterhoff ‘16 and Aaron Levenson ‘15 | Collaborative Writers

A Lafayette employee’s web services company was part of an FBI investigation on an online marketplace that sold contraband items, such as illegal drugs and stolen credit card numbers.

A warrant, released to the public last month, was issued in September to search the servers of JTAN, a web services company owned by Christopher Nadovich, Director of Laboratories for the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at Lafayette. Federal authorities said that JTAN was hosting backup servers for Silk Road, a dark-web marketplace only accessible through Tor, encrypted web software that allows for private and anonymous web browsing.

When Silk Road’s own web servers were seized, federal authorities found that the servers only contained transaction data from the past sixty days, and all other data was purged. However, it was found that before the data was deleted, it was sent to an IP address linked with JTAN. Federal authorities suspected that JTAN did not delete the data that was sent from Silk Road, and that the data was still on JTAN’s servers.

Federal authorities requested the warrant to scour Nadovich’s servers to collect records of purchases made on Silk Road and any communication between buyers and sellers on the site. FBI officials thought that JTAN’s servers contained data similar to the files contained on Silk Road’s servers, such as “databases of vendor postings, transaction records, private messages between users, and other data reflecting user activity.”

According to court documents, Nadovich has not been personally charged in the case, although he is the owner of JTAN. As of printing, he did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

Silk Road was able to upload transaction data to JTAN servers because the company does not request any personal information from clients, which allows their “customers to lease servers through its service with complete anonymity,” according to an affidavit accompanying the warrant request.

According to JTAN’s website, the company does not request personal information because they “believe that people should have a way to access the net without giving away their personal information to be sold by the likes of Google and other marketers.” The company also “provide[s]…tools for law abiding people to go about their lives on the net without being logged and tagged,” letting their customers “reach the parts of the net that they want to reach without fear of exploitation.”

JTAN accepts Bitcoin as form of payment for their services to keep customer’s identities as hidden as possible. Silk Road also utilized Bitcoin as their currency for payment because of its untraceable properties.

Silk Road was shut down last fall after the arrest of its founder, Ross William Ulbricht. Ulbricht has pleaded not guilty to money-laundering and drug-trafficking charges, and is currently awaiting trial at a federal court in Manhattan.

Nadovich has been with the college since 2008. The head of the electrical and computer engineering department, John Nestor, declined to comment.

“The college is investigating the matter,” President Alison Byerly wrote in an email.