Global police arrest dozens of people in dark web sting

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More trouble in dark markets? A notorious black-market bazaar announces plans to close up shop on the same day that police announce the arrests of 61 people.

Law enforcement from Europe, the United States, and Canada have announced the results of a recent international operation against dozens of people who reportedly sold and bought illicit goods on the dark web.

The sting led to the arrests of 61 people who are believed to have plied their trade using 50 dark web accounts. The police also seized nearly 300 kilos of drugs, 51 firearms, and over €6.2 million (US$7 million). Two-thirds were in virtual currency, while the remainder was in cold hard cash.

In Europe, the operation encompassed 17 countries, notably Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Portugal, according to the press release that Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency, released on Tuesday. A statement from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation sheds additional light on the operation, dubbed SaboTor.

Preparations for the crackdown began in July 2018, when “60 experts from 19 countries, Eurojust and Europol looked for the illegal sale and signs of counterfeit goods and money, drugs, cybercrime, document fraud, non-cash payment fraud, trafficking in human beings and trafficking in firearms and explosives”.

Using information gleaned from this effort, the police “identified 247 high-value targets and developed intelligence packages that were disseminated to the concerned countries for further handling”. Hundreds of investigations are now under way.

Europol also used the announcement to warn the general public about risks stemming from shopping on the internet’s hidden recesses. “The dark web is not as dark as you think. When you buy or sell illegal goods online, you are not hidden from law enforcement and you are putting yourself in danger,” Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, was quoted as saying.

A rude awakening

Meanwhile, ZDNet and InfoSecurity Magazine report that today’s largest dark web marketplace, Dream Market, will shutter on April 30. The planned shutdown is said to have come out of the blue – and the announcement thereof was made on the same day that the police went public with the results of SaboTor.

Speculation is rife that the site may too have been seized by law enforcement. Some even believe that Dream Market, launched way back in April 2013, is now being run as a honeypot operation to lure in suspected criminals.

Crackdowns on similar marketplaces – think Silk Road in 2013, Silk Road 2.0 in the following year, and AlphaBay and Hansa Market in 2017 – were complete with official announcements and seizure notices.

Europol has noted before that the takedowns of illegal marketplaces have sown anxiety and distrust among vendors and buyers, ultimately leading to the exits of some traders from the internet’s dark recesses and to a decrease in the volume of transactions on competing marketplaces.

Turning specifically to cybercrime and dark markets, you may want to read our exploration into cybercrime as a service, or how cyber-crooks offer their malicious wares and infrastructure on the black market for nefarious ends.

written by Tomas Foltyn, ESET We Live Security


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