Some 150 people who bought or sold drugs or weapons on the dark web have been arrested around the world in one of the “biggest snipes to date regarding the clandestine version of the internet,” Europol said on Tuesday.
According to the European police agency, several million euros in cash and bitcoins as well as drugs and weapons were also seized in this operation called “Darkhuntor”.
DarkHunTOR “consisted of a series of separate but complementary actions in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States”, said Europol.
The operation followed the dismantling in January under the leadership of the German police of the platform “DarkMarket”, presented by the investigators as the “largest” point of sale of the cyber-black market.
In the United States, some 65 people were arrested in this operation, which also resulted in, among other things, 47 arrests in Germany, 24 in the United Kingdom, four in Italy and four in the Netherlands. Several of those arrested were “significant targets” for Europol.
Law enforcement also seized EUR 26.7 million in cash and electronic currencies as well as drugs, including 25,000 ecstasy tablets, and 45 firearms.
The arrest in January of the alleged operator of “DarkMarket”, a 34-year-old Australian arrested at the German-Danish border, has “provided investigators around the world with a treasure trove of evidence”, according to Europol.
The dismantling of “DarkMarket”, which sold drugs of all kinds such as counterfeit currency, stolen or falsified credit card data, anonymous SIM cards or computer viruses, was linked to a sting dating back to September 2019 in Germany against a major host of illegal darknet services named “Cyberbunker”, had specified at the time the prosecutor’s office.
This illegal data center, housed in a former NATO bunker in southwestern Germany, is suspected of having hosted several drug sales platforms but also servers used for trafficking child pornography or cyber attacks.
The European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) Europol has since accumulated information to identify key targets, explains the agency.
The dark web, a parallel version of the Web where the anonymity of users is guaranteed. He has been under increasing attack in recent months by international police.
“The purpose of operations like this is to signal to criminals operating on the dark web (that) the law enforcement community has the means and international partnerships to unmask them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities, even in areas of the dark web”deputy director of operations at Europol, Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, said on Tuesday.
For Rolf van Wegberg, cybercrime researcher at Delft University of Technology, the operation marks a shift in police action against suspected criminals acting on the internet.
“In the past, these types of operations were aimed at arresting the operators of these kinds of marketplaces and now we are seeing police going after the main sellers”, he told investigative journalists from the Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV.