Law enforcement agencies around the world have arrested 179 people involved in buying and selling illicit goods and services on the dark web as part of a coordinated international take down operation involving agencies in nine countries – and police have warned cyber criminals that "the golden age of the dark web is over".
The coordinated campaign was led by the German Federal Criminal Police, with support from the Dutch National Police, the UK's National Crime Agency, US government agencies including the Department of Justice and FBI, Europol and others.
Known as Operation Disruptor, it follows last year's take down of Wall Street Market, which was at the time the second largest illegal online marketplace on the dark web.
Law enforcement managed to identify users of Wall Street Market which led to the identification of users of other dark web marketplaces including AlphaBay, Dream Nightmare, Empire, White House, DeepSea, Dark Market and others – which has resulted in 179 arrests.
The highest number of arrests were made in the US, with 121, followed by 42 arrests in Germany. Eight arrests have been made in The Netherlands, with four in the UK, three in Austria and one in Sweden.
Those arrested are suspected to involved in selling illegal items and services including drugs and firearms, with large amounts of produce being seized by law enforcement. Over $6.5 million in cash and cryptocurrencies has also been seized following the arrests.
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"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 takes down such illegal marketplaces - they also chase down the criminals buying and selling illegal goods through such sites," said European law enforcement agency Europol in a statement. "The dark web is not a fairy tale - vendors and buyers are no longer hidden in the shadow," it said.
"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," said Edvardas Šileris head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)
"Law enforcement is committed to tracking down criminals, no matter where they operate – be it on the streets or behind a computer screen," he added.
Authorities from Austria, Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the UK and the US all took part in the operation leading to the arrests. Investigations are still ongoing, with law enforcement hoping to make further arrests in future.
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