Police in 17 countries have arrested at least 17 website administrators, vendors and ‘cybercriminals’ as part of an operation targeting over 400 “Deep Web Dark Markets” where vendors sell goods decreed illegal by governments and receive ratings like on Amazon or eBay.
The sites hide from law enforcement on the “Dark Web” by using The Onion Router, or TOR, an underground computer network that relays cyber communications through at least three separate computers to disguise the Internet addresses of its users. Domain names for websites on the TOR network end with .onion.
Law enforcement agencies from Europe, the U.S. and Canada, working from Europol’s coordination center in the Netherlands, seized the servers that hosted the illegal marketplaces and took control of more than 400 .onion domains. The marketplaces knocked offline include SR2, Hydra, RepAAA, Hidden Empire, Cloud Nine, Black Market and Cannabis Road, Pandora, Blue Sky and Golden Nugget, Europol said. Police dubbed the operation “Onymous,” the antonym of anonymous.
Police also seized cash, bitcoin, drugs, gold and silver.
In Ireland, the international investigation lead to the arrest of two men and the seizure of illegal drugs, including Ecstasy and LSD, worth $224,000, Ireland’s Garda National said. The police also seized computers from which they are able to access bitcoin accounts related to the drug sales and customer lists that they will share with law enforcement agencies around the world, police said. Information found during the arrests also lead to offshore bank accounts in Switzerland, Belize, Poland and other countries, the police said.
“The fact that such a significant vendor has been arrested in the presence of an encrypted but open computer with address lists for customers all over the world will be of significant interest to many global law enforcement agencies who specialise in Darknet investigations,” the Irish police said in a statement.
In Britain, police arrested six people, including suspected web administrators of the online drug marketplace Silk Road 2.0 and vendors who sold illicit items on the Dark Web sites. Police also seized computer equipment.
“Simultaneously, partners from the European Cybercrime Centre — acting on intelligence developed by US counterparts — took out technical infrastructure which is key to the hosting of illegal market places on the dark web,” the National Crime Agency said in a statement.
The websites are “vital criminal infrastructures that are supporting serious organized crime,” Troels Oerting, assistant director of Europol’s European Cybercrime Center, said.
26-year-old, Blake Benthall, was arrested in San Francisco and is being accused of running Silk Road 2.0, the largest illicit drugs marketplace on the Internet.
“Today we have demonstrated that, together, we are able to efficiently remove vital criminal infrastructures that are supporting serious organized crime,” Oerting said. “And we are not ‘just’ removing these services from the open Internet; this time we have also hit services on the dark net using Tor where, for a long time, criminals have considered themselves beyond reach.”
Posters on DeepDotWeb, an internet forum that focuses on the underground marketplaces, began noting a series of Dark Web shutdowns on Thursday.
“No doubt that the 6th of November 2014 will be remembered as one the darkest days in the Dark Net Markets history,” the site’s administrator wrote, noting that at least four sites had been seized.
Users who tried to access the sites found a legal notice from the U.S. Department of Justice, Homeland Security Investigations and European law enforcement agencies.
“This hidden site has been seized,” the notice said.
Forfeiture complaints and other documents filed in federal court in New York included a list of some of the seized “Dark Markets.” Among them are “Pandora,” “Blue Sky,” “Hydra” and “Cloud Nine,” which are similar to Silk Road 2.0 and offered a range of illegal goods and services such as drugs, stolen credit card data, counterfeit money and fake IDs.
” Executive Outcomes,” another site shut down by police, specialized in firearms trafficking, including assault rifles, automatic weapons and sound suppressors with the serial numbers removed. “Fake Real Plastic” sold counterfeit credit cards encoded with stolen credit card data and guaranteed to have at least $2,200 left on the card’s credit limit. The seized “Fake ID” site offered fraudulent passports and the seized “Fast Cash” and “Super Notes Counter” sold fake euros and U.S. dollars in exchange for bitcoin.