Officials Thursday went after so-called 'dark net' sites that sell illegal drugs, arresting 17 people in one of the largest stings ever staged against the virtual organized crime world.
Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, said law enforcement and judicial agencies around the globe undertook a joint action against dark markets running as hidden services on the Tor network. Tor, short for The Onion Router, is a free network designed to anonymize user IP addresses by routing traffic through many of its servers.
Authorities in 16 European countries, along with their counterparts in the United States, brought down numerous online marketplaces from Europol’s operational coordination center in The Hague, The Netherlands. Dutch prosecutors said Friday the arrests were made in the U.S., Ireland and Germany.
Operation Onymous, as it was called, was coordinated by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3); Eurojust, an agency of the European Union dealing with judicial co-operation in criminal matters; the FBI; as well as federal immigration and homeland security agencies in the U.S.
The arrests were intended to stop the sale, distribution and promotion of various illegal and harmful items, including weapons and drugs, sold through online dark markets. The sweep resulted in 17 arrests of vendors and administrators. Additionally, more than 410 hidden services were taken down and bitcoins worth about $1 million in cash, drugs, gold and silver were seized. The dark market Silk Road 2.0 was taken down by the FBI, and the operator was arrested.
When we reached Pierluigi Paganini, founder of the IT security blog SecurityAffairs, he called the sweep a major success in the fight against cybercrime.
"The cooperation and the information sharing between intelligence agencies and law enforcement of different countries represented the key element for the success of the operation," he said.
Silk Road and similar Web sites are not visible on the open Internet. They can only be accessed with special browsers that encrypt Web traffic for transfer via the TOR network of anonymizing servers -- also known as the 'dark net.' Buyers and sellers on the sites trade using digital currencies, usually bitcoins.
"Today we have demonstrated that, together, we are able to efficiently remove vital criminal infrastructures that are supporting serious organized crime," said Troels Oerting, head of EC3. "For a long time, criminals have considered themselves beyond reach. We can now show that they are neither invisible nor untouchable."
Silk Road Arrest
Europol said in addition to the Silk Road site, it has seized or shut down such marketplaces as Hydra, Cloud Nine, Pandora (not the online music streaming site) and Blue Sky. Oerting estimated that more than 55 dark markets will have been shut down by the time the operation is finished. He could not confirm whether any firearms or child pornography have been seized in any of the raids.
The FBI said Thursday it had arrested Blake Benthall, 26, on suspicion of running the Silk Road 2.0 site, which was launched weeks after the first Silk Road closed. Benthall was expected to appear in a New York federal court Friday.
Paganini said law enforcement can build on the success of this operation by Infiltrating criminal organizations and cyber gangs to identify critical figures that conduct illicit activities.
"Also important is improving hacking techniques against criminals that exploit anonymizing networks to track them, and improving the information sharing on dark net communities," he said.
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