Some time ago, the world’s largest illegal market place on the dark web called DarkMarket had been taken down in an international operation. Police forces from seven countries namely Germany, Australia, Denmark, Moldova, Ukraine, the United Kingdom (the National Crime Agency), and the USA (DEA, FBI, and IRS) were involved in this operation. This takedown was assisted by Europol who provided specialist operational analysis and also coordinated the cross-border collaborative efforts of countries involved in the mission. This operation also arrested a 34- year- old Australian, who is speculated to be its mastermind.
But, what was DarkMarket?
DarkMarket was a hub that traded everything including drugs, counterfeit money, and stolen credit card details through cryptocurrency. It also dealt with malware and hacking software. With extreme scrutiny, it was only accessible through a specialist web browser.
Europol’s estimate confirmed that the site traded close to €140 million equivalent in today’s money. It was a mix of Bitcoin and Monero, where over 4,650 Bitcoin and 12,800 Monero coins were transferred. DarkMarket housed over 500,000 users. It also had an estimate of over 2,400 sellers along with transactions crossing the count of 320,000.
Thus, authorities in Europe plan to use the captured DarkMarket servers to carry out an investigation on the buyers and sellers from Ukraine and Moldova. This is to track all the people who engaged with the site for criminal transactions.
In the events of this case, a major achievement was the arrest of an Australian citizen who is alleged to be the operator of the DarkMarket around the German-Danish border. This arrest was successfully carried out by The Central Criminal Investigation Department in the German city of Oldenburg.
Europol in a statement said, “The investigation, which was led by the cybercrime unit of the Koblenz Public Prosecutor's Office, allowed officers to locate and close the marketplace, switch off the servers and seize the criminal infrastructure – more than 20 servers in Moldova and Ukraine supported by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).”
They also added that the stored data will give investigators several new leads. These leads hopefully will help to further investigate and track down moderators, sellers, and buyers.
Thus, Europol was fundamental in this operation and played a pivotal role. It provided several advanced analytics to help the German authorities in recognizing and capturing the alleged administrator. It also provided specialist operational support. Thus, Germany experienced great help in cross border coordinations and collaborations with other international agencies involved in this mission.
Europol’s Dark Web Team functions with the aim of creating a coordinated law enforcement approach to deal with crime on the dark web. Thus, thus comprises law enforcement agencies in and around, and outside the European Union. It also includes other corresponding partners and organizations like Eurojust.
Hence, the shutting down of DarkMarket has certainly been a major achievement and fulfillment of one of their primary agendas. To fulfill this mission, Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre has created a network of committed Dark Web Teams. These forces work together with the partners in European Union and law enforcement across the world. The primary focus is directed towards reducing the size of this extended underground illegal economy that exists.
What does the shutting down of DarkMarket imply in the future?
It is a well-known fact that the sale of illegal goods and the series of criminal activities online has a far-reaching market. Often it happens that, when one source is shut down, an alternative marketplace is found to be thriving. A very prominent example of this is the shutting down of the Silk Route in 2013. This pushed sellers to migrate and disperse to other rival market spots. Hence, the closure of DarkMarket realistically is very unlikely to put a permanent stall on the sale of illegal goods online.
However, it does not mean this shutdown has no impact and realistically has no achievements. The arrest of the alleged operator and seizure of DarkMarket servers does open several opportunities of arresting drug dealers and their customers online. This will take place when their addresses and anonymous identities are accurately deciphered by the police.