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Day of Reckoning for Dark Markets as Hundreds of Domains Seized

| Published on November 7, 2014 at 19:16 BST

Silk Road 2 seized

At least 400 dark net web domains have been reported seized and 17 individuals arrested in connection with Operation Onymous, an ongoing global cybercrime crackdown.

A number of high-profile dark net markets, most notably Silk Road 2.0, have been shut down by law enforcement agencies in the US and Europe over the past 24 hours. The European Union's Judicial Cooperation Unit, or Eurojust, reported on 7th November that 414 dark web domains have been seized so far as part of Operation Onymous.

All of the sites in question were accessible through the Tor network, which according to those involved with the investigation was compromised by means of an as-yet-undisclosed tool or mechanism.

DeepDotWeb reports that the number of well-known dark markets seized by cybercrime authorities continues to climb. Recent takedowns include the CannabisRoad forums, Blue Sky, Cloud9 and Hydra. Other markets, including Agora, Middle Earth and Evolution, remain unaffected at press time.

Troels Oerting, head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), said that the long-standing belief that some dark markets were obscured from law enforcement efforts is false, noting:

“We can now show that they are neither invisible nor untouchable. The criminals can run but they can’t hide. And our work continues.”

Europol had not responded to requests for inquiry at press time.

Alleged vendors arrested in UK, Ireland

Blake BenthallLaw enforcement agencies have revealed a number of arrests in connection with Operation Onymous. Blake Benthall, the San Francisco software developer and alleged Silk Road 2.0 operator, is one of at least half a dozen individuals taken into custody.

Benthall has reportedly acknowledged his role in Silk Road 2.0, according to a report from Ars Techina. In a San Francisco court, Benthall reportedly confessed to managing the site. He has been deemed a flight risk and is being held without bail.

The UK National Crime Agency (NCA) released a statement on 7th November, announcing that it had coordinated with other organizations to arrest six people across the country. Individuals in Wales, Lincolnshire and Liverpool were arrested in connection with the investigation.

NCA deputy director Roy McComb said that the arrests this week were part of a broader effort initiated after the original Silk Road marketplace was shut down last year.

“It may take time and effort to investigate and build a criminal case, but we are determined to identify and prosecute people caught dealing drugs and committing serious crime using the dark web,” he explained.

Two more were arrested in Ireland during the operation, and as much as €2m-worth of bitcoin were confiscated, in addition to a narcotics cache containing ecstasy and LSD.

As reported by the Belfast Telegraph, the Ireland-based investigation is still ongoing and the bitcoin owned by those detained has been seized by law enforcement officials.

Some sites remain, for now

With the operation still ongoing and likely to continue, it remains unclear how the dark web marketplace ecosystem will remain operational.

Message boards used by dark web market participants have seen a steady stream of anxious and concerned postings, with many focused on the big question of the day: how, exactly, did law enforcement agencies seemingly crack the Tor network?

A number of officials tied to Operation Onymous have said that criminals who use the Tor network should no longer feel secure using the system. Tor participants obscure their behavior by having their data pass through a global network of distributed servers, effectively scrambling their online footprint.

Oerting of EC3 told Wired’s Andy Greenberg that the exact method for cracking the Tor network “is something we want to keep for ourselves".

“The way we do this, we can’t share with the whole world, because we want to do it again and again and again,” he continued.

As for the sites that remain open, some observers speculate that the hosting services for still-operational dark markets may be outside of US/EU jurisdication.

CoinDesk is monitoring this developing story.

Image via Shutterstock

Silk Road 2.0

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