The Law Scores a Victory Against Dark Net Denizens

European and U.S. officials cooperated to disrupt activities in the hive of scum and villainy known as the "Dark Web," seizing illegal websites and arresting suspects, including the head of the notorious Silk Road. "While I would like to think our enforcement actions this week shut down [the bad guys], ... we're going to have to continue to monitor things," said ICE Special Agent Gary Hartwig.

Europol on Friday announced that a team of agents from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Eurojust have taken down more than 400 cybercrime services accessible via the Tor browser.

They include the dark market Silk Road 2.0. Its operator, San Francisco resident Blake Benthall, was arrested, along with six Britons.

Europol coordinated the action, which was dubbed “Operation Onymous.”

“Almost all crime now has an international nexus — and especially within HSI, we have significant dependency on other partners in law enforcement here and in other countries,” Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Chicago, told the E-Commerce Times.

In all, the cops arrested 17 vendors and administrators running the cybercrime sites. Officials seized about US$1 million worth of bitcoins, along with an estimated $225,000 worth of cash, gold, silver and drugs.

Takedown Tactics

Forty law enforcement agents reportedly collaborated for six months on the investigation before the crackdown. Among the sites taken down: Cloud Nine, Hydra, BlueSky, Outlaw Market and Alpaca.

More arrests are expected.

“While I would like to think our enforcement actions this week shut down [the bad guys], Dark Net or Silk Road are such significantly complex criminal structures that we’re going to have to continue to monitor things,” Hartwig said.

Onymous “is a great example of how 20th century law enforcement tactics and undercover operations are still viable in the 21st century, despite drastic changes to the criminal landscape,” Craig Young, a security researcher at Tripwire, told the E-Commerce Times.

The Song Remains The Same

Cloud9 already is looking for a new host, according to a post by “missy76,” who seems to be one of the site’s admins.

One of the site’s servers was seized by law enforcement, missy76 said.

“If the server has been seized, they’re looking for you too. Stay safe,” responded “pfhwheel.”

“Nice try, FBI,” commented “sharpshooter789.”

“You should be running the f*ck away and shredding evidence right now, not further incriminating yourself by looking for server options … stay safe and good luck,” responded “YourOpSecSrslySucks,” echoing advice given earlier by “gwern.”

Setting up a website is not difficult. Both Cloud9 and Hydra, another site taken down in operation Onymous, used Twitter’s Bootstrap.

More Ammo for Government Surveillance?

The arrests may give the FBI and NSA a boost as they seek to continue their surveillance of all communications on the Internet.

The FBI is asking the Advisory Committee on Rules of Criminal Procedure to, in essence, give it new powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers in the U.S. and worldwide.

Civil liberties organizations have warned this would let the bureau ignore Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections and violate First Amendment privacy rights.

The Dark Net Is Not All Bad

Law enforcement and the NSA paint an unsavory picture of the Dark Net, aka the “Deep Web.”

Law enforcement officials in May busted a child porn ring accessible via Tor. Last year, the FBI took down Freedom Hosting, which hosted several child porn sites and provided turnkey hidden service sites.

“Dark Net and dark markets aren’t one and the same,” Pierluigi Stella, chief technology officer at Network Box USA, told the E-Commerce Times. “I don’t see an issue with Tor itself; it’s just how these people used it.”

Facebook and Tor

Facebook recently improved user access to its services through Tor, saying it would enhance security. The Onymous takedown raises the question of whether Facebook might step up its monitoring of access through Tor.

“Facebook has a mature set of policies and processes for ensuring the safety of people using our service,” company spokesperson Jay Nancarrow told the E-Commerce Times. “People using Tor across Facebook are required to respect our terms just like anyone else.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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