In an operation dubbed Operation DisrupTor, law enforcement agencies across the US and Europe arrested 179 cyber criminals who used dark web accounts to buy and sell illicit goods such as drugs, firearms, and medicines containing addictive substances.
In May last year, law enforcement authorities in Europe and the US successfully took down two major Dark Web marketplaces Wall Street Market and Valhalla, the former being the world’s then second-largest illegal online market in the dark web.
Soon after the marketplaces were rendered defunct, law enforcement authorities in France and Israel arrested two administrators of a website known as DeepDotWeb who earned millions in kickbacks by referring buyers of fentanyl, heroin, and other illegal goods to popular Dark Web marketplaces.
Using the website, the cyber criminals facilitated the sale of illegal drugs, firearms, malicious software, hacking tools, stolen financial information, payment cards, and other illegal counterfeit goods on a number of Dark Web marketplaces.
In a similar operation dubbed Operation DisrupTor conducted this month, authorities across Europe and the United States arrested 179 people who engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods on the Dark Web. The authorities also seized over $6.5 million in cash and virtual currencies and around 500 kilograms of drugs, medicines containing addictive substances, and 64 firearms.
Drugs that were bought and sold on Dark Web marketplaces by the arrested individuals included banned products such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and MDMA among others.
Out of the 179 criminals, 121 were arrested in the United States, 42 in Germany, 8 in the Netherlands, 4 in the UK, and three were arrested in Austria. According to Europol, the takedown of Wall Street Market last year provided authorities with quantitative data and materials to identify suspects behind dark web accounts used for illegal activity.
"Law enforcement is most effective when working together, and today’s announcement sends a strong message to criminals selling or buying illicit goods on the dark web: the hidden internet is no longer hidden, and your anonymous activity is not anonymous. Law enforcement is committed to tracking down criminals, no matter where they operate – be it on the streets or behind a computer screen," said Edvardas Šileris, the Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).
"The golden age of dark web marketplace is over. Operations such as these highlight the capability of law enforcement to counter encryption and anonymity of dark web market places. Police no longer only take down such illegal marketplaces – they also chase down the criminals buying and selling illegal goods through such sites," Europol said.
Earlier this year, Catherine De Bolle, the executive director of Europol, warned that cyber criminals may soon start leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data and hence, there is an urgent need for a new dialogue between stakeholders on cyber security and data protection challenges that accompany new technologies.
"For the future, one of the main challenges will be to align security and privacy demands in the design of all data processing operations. In this regard, Europol will continue its work by reinforcing meaningful and effective safeguards for individuals affected by personal data processing, while promoting de-bureaucratised and efficient processes.
"Our task in law enforcement is to catch bad guys with the help of data but we want to do it the right way and keep the trust of the European citizens that we are doing it in full compliance with fundamental rights – and this is [the] way we, at Europol, are celebrating Data Protection Day," she added.