Less than a year after law enforcement authorities in the United States and Europe succeeded in taking down AlphaBay and Hansa darkweb, the two most popular Dark Web marketplaces for cyber criminals, Europol has announced that Webstresser.org, the world’s biggest marketplace to hire Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) services was taken down and its top users arrested.
The takedown of Webstresser.org was a result of a joint operation between Europol, the Dutch Police and the UK’s National Crime Agency who also received support from a dozen law enforcement agencies from around the world.
Why is this significant?
While cyber criminals often switch to new Dark Web marketplaces after existing ones are taken down, what's significant is that this time, the administrators and top users of Webstressers.org were pursued and nabbed by law enforcement authorities.
Not only were the administrators of the marketplace in the United Kingdom, Croatia, Canada and Serbia arrested, top users of the marketplace in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong also faced action.
The takedown is also significant because according to Europol, Webstresser.org was considered the world’s biggest marketplace to hire Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) services. It had over 136,000 registered users and 4 million attacks measured by April 2018 and DDoS tools available at the marketplace were used to target critical online services offered by banks, government institutions and police forces, as well as victims in the gaming industry.
Criminals with little experience could launch DDoS attacks
Yet another factor that necessitated the quick takedown of Webstresser.org was that novices in the cyber crime industry with little experience and no technical skills could hire stressers and booters from the marketplace to launch crippling attacks on banks, government institutions, police forces, and gamers.
At the same time, sophisticated DDoS tools were available for hire at the marketplace for as low as EUR 15.00 a month, thereby ensuring that cyber criminals who didn't have enough funds to launch attacks on their own could also rent malicious stressers and booters to fulfill their motives.
"Stresser websites make powerful weapons in the hands of cybercriminals. International law enforcement will not tolerate these illegal services and will continue to pursue its admins and users. This joint operation is yet another successful example of the ongoing international effort against these destructive cyberattacks," said Jaap van Oss, Dutch Chairman of the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT).
Jo Goodall, Senior Investigating Officer at the NCA, said that the arrests made over the past two days showed that the internet does not provide bullet-proof anonymity to offenders and that the NCA expects to identify further suspects linked to the site in the coming weeks and months.
"Over the last year we have seen how cyber attacks have real-world consequences; resulting in actual physical harm as well as causing reputational and financial damage to businesses of all sizes.
"The cyber threat is constantly evolving and we are improving our tactics and capabilities in response. But businesses and individuals must report cyber crime - the earlier people report, the quicker we are able to assess new methodologies and limit the damage they can have," he added.
Gert Ras, Head of the National High Tech Crime Unit at the Dutch National Police, also said that the takedown of Webstresser.org was "an unprecedented impact on DDOS cyber crime".
"This is a warning to all wannabee DDOS-ers - do not DDOS because through close law enforcement collaboration, we will identify you, bring you to court and facilitate that you will be held liable by the victims for the huge damage you cause," he said.
The takedown of Webstresser.org also comes at a time when the UK government is providing a fresh £9 million funding to enable the police forces to nab cyber criminals who use the Dark Web to buy and sell malware, firearms, and drug and use their anonymity to carry out cyber attacks on people, government institutions and private enterprises without fear of retaliation.
The £9 million fund will be part of a total allocation of £50 million which the government has promised to spend to help law enforcement authorities improve their cyber capabilities and to fight cyber crime in the year 2018-2019.