More than 400 “hidden” websites have been taken down as part of an international effort involving European nations and the USA.
Following the takedown of the Silk Road 2.0 domain this week, this action has seized 414 sites, Bitcoins worth approximately $1 million, and drugs, gold and silver and seen 17 arrested.
Koen Hermans, assistant to the national member for the Netherlands at Eurojust and leader of the coordination centre, said: “This case is a landmark in the continuing battle against cyber crime; it marks the beginning, not the end, of the pursuit of those who abuse the internet for illegal profit.”
Hermans said that this case was important in showing that “criminals can no longer hide from the authorities” and said that they “will be tracked down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law”.
The National Crime Agency said that the arrests included a 20-year-old man from Liverpool, a 19-year-old man from New Waltham in Lincolnshire, a 30-year-old man from Cleethorpes, a 29-year-old man from Aberdovey in Wales and a 58 year-old man and woman also from Aberdovey.
Rik Ferguson, director of security research at Trend Micro, praised the international effort and the arrests.
“It is the same as if we are talking about botnets or the dark web infrastructure, if people go after infrastructure then the criminals are still behind it and are still interested in making money and will carry on making money,” he said.
“With the 17 arrests across multiple geographies, they will not put new websites up again and there may be other enterprising criminals who see the opportunity to make money, and there is a strong possibility that they will reappear, but it is really starting to send a strong message out that arrests to do follow criminal activity. Previously, most people believed that was not the case and to be honest, a few years ago that was rarely the case and law enforcement have really upped their game.”
Ferguson said that in some cases, some were arrested in front of booted up PCs, and that makes no difference to whether it is encrypted or not. “So there will be a lot of supplementary evidence as a result of this,” he said.
He said that he had not seen a lot of detail of the intelligence used to catch the criminals and shut down the websites, but what was most common was “silly mistakes” made by those ultimately arrested.
Roy McComb, deputy director of the National Crime Agency, said that it has been working with partners in the US and Europe since the takedown of the original Silk Road domain last November to locate technical infrastructure on the dark web.
“The operation is ongoing and more arrests can be expected as we continue to investigate those involved in setting up and profiting from these illegal market places,” he said.
Brian Honan, CEO of BH Consulting, said: “Of course these raids will not stop new sites appearing to replace the ones shut down, but what the police have done is demonstrate to the criminals that they are no longer immune on the dark web.
“This will impact them in a number of ways, such as having to spend more time and money on increasing their security, which will add costs to their operations. It will also mean they will have to be more careful as to whom they should trust t
o run and operate these sites, which again may impact on their operations.
“The police won’t sit back either and will also improve their tools and techniques. All in all it is a good day for those in law enforcement tackling online crime and in general for society in general as suspected criminals are arrested.”