A day after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the seizure of a black market website used to buy and sell illegal drugs and other unlawful goods online, federal agencies and their international partners on Friday announced the seizure of “dozens” of dark market websites and network servers used worldwide to facilitate the anonymous buying and selling of “all things illegal,” dealing a blow to these hidden markets.
“As illegal activity online becomes more prevalent, criminals can no longer expect that they can hide in the shadows of the ‘dark web,’” Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “We shut down the original Silk Road website and now we have shut down its replacement, as well as multiple other ‘dark market’ sites allegedly offering all manner of illicit goods and services, from firearms to computer hacking.”
Leslie Caldwell, assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said that despite the use of advanced technology by criminals and their use of international borders to hide from law enforcement, “the global law enforcement community has innovated and collaborated to disrupt these ‘dark market’ websites, no matter how sophisticated or far-flung they have become.”
On Thursday the Homeland Security Investigations division of DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said that it and the FBI had arrested 26-year-old Blake Benthall, also known as Defcon, in San Francisco related to his operation and ownership of the Silk Road 2.0 website that facilitated illegal buying and selling of drugs and other things on the Internet. Silk Road 2.0 was just like the Silk Road criminal network that was shut down a year ago, Bharara said in a statement on Thursday.
Silk Road 2.0 and other illegal websites such as Pandora, Executive Outcomes, Hydra, Fake ID and others operated on the “Tor” network or “The Onion Router,” which has been designed as a hidden part of the Internet that is extremely difficult to locate the computer servers that host the illegal websites that were seized in the law enforcement operation.
Agencies in the United States and Europe didn’t provide details about how they tracked down the servers, and individuals like Benthall and others associated with the illegal activities, but warned that they can’t hide as freely any longer.
“Today we have demonstrated that, together, we are able to efficiently remove vital criminal infrastructures that are supporting serious organized crime,” Troels Oerting, head of Europol’s European Crime Centre, said in a statement on Friday. “And we are not just removing these services from the open Internet, this time we have also hit services on the ‘Darknet’ using Tor, where for a long time, criminals have considered themselves beyond reach. We can now show that they are neither invisible nor untouchable. The criminals can run but they can’t hide.”
The investigation is ongoing and has resulted in 17 arrests and the seizure of cash, drugs and gold. It involved a number of U.S. agencies and partners in 16 European countries. Altogether, more than 400 hidden services have been shut down, selling drugs, fake IDs, passports, personal identification information and other identification documents, guns, computer hacking tools and services, and counterfeit currency.