World’s largest dark web marketplace taken offline

A multinational operation also involving Europol, UK and US authorities has put a halt to illegal trade valued at approximately £125 million

The EU’s law enforcement agency has spearheaded an operation taking down DarkMarket, the world’s largest illegal marketplace, and put a stop to trade worth more than €140 million (roughly £125 million).

Cooperating with the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and several US law enforcement agencies, the operation led officers to switch off servers and seize the criminal infrastructure, comprising more than 20 servers in Moldova and Ukraine.

This has put an end to one of the busiest platforms for illegal trade over the dark web

DarkMarket boasted almost 500,000 users, more than 2,400 sellers, 320,000 transactions, and more than 4,650 Bitcoin and 12,800 Monero transferred. DarkMarket mostly traded drugs, counterfeit money, credit card details, anonymous SIM cards and malware.

Europol facilitated international information exchange, provided specialist operational support, and offered advanced analytics that assisted primarily German authorities in tracking down the alleged administrator.

The takedown is made even more significant because of research published in December 2020 by cryptocurrency forensics firm Chainalysis that showed fewer dark web markets were competing for illicit online revenues

Revenues across the wider dark web hit more than $1.5 billion (approximately £1.1 billion) as of November 2020, across nine million transactions. There were also just 37 active markets as of November, down from an all-time peak of almost 60 in February.

The dismantling of DarkMarket represents a major step for European law enforcement in its aim to foster a coordinated approach to tackling crime on the dark web. To achieve this, Europol’s cybercrime division established a dedicated Dark Web Team to work together with EU member states and law enforcement agencies across the globe to break down the underground illegal economy.  

Europol has previously played a key role in taking down criminal networks, having only recently dismantled the EncroChat site, which supplied encrypted mobile phones to drug dealers and criminal syndicates. Working with the NCA, hacking the website was deemed the law enforcement equivalent of breaking the Enigma code, according to officers involved.

“Darkweb Market Places remain the primary route to buy illicit commodities such as drugs and guns online, and have continued to operate with criminals exploiting anonymising technologies and virtual currencies to avoid law enforcement," an NCA spokesperson told IT Pro

“The NCA’s Darkweb Intelligence, Collection and Exploitation (DICE) unit supported the EUROPOL led international Darkmarket operation with specialist investigative capabilities, and will continue to work with its regional policing partners to co-ordinate the ongoing UK response.

“The Darkweb provides organised criminals a place to conduct their business using military grade encryption on a global basis. This operation demonstrates the capabilities of the NCA, UK policing and international partners to tackle this growing threat”

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