The newly launched National Crime Agency (NCA) is investigating hidden internet operations after the arrest of four UK men in connection with online drug market Silk Road.
News of the arrests comes a week after the FBI shut down the website and arrested kingpin Ross Ulbricht in San Francisco and one of the site’s top sellers in Seattle.
Three men in their early 20s were arrested last week in Manchester, while another in his 50s was detained in Devon, and more arrests are expected soon, according to the BBC.
Ulbricht is believed to have run the trade in drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth using the virtual currency Bitcoin and free anonymity software Tor that hides websites from search engines.
Keith Bristow, head of the NCA, said: “These arrests send a clear message to criminals; the hidden internet isn't hidden and your anonymous activity isn't anonymous.
“We know where you are, what you are doing and we will catch you.”
Andy Archibald, head of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU), said the investigation into Silk Road will provide insights into how criminals use the hidden internet known as the deep web or dark web.
These criminal areas of the internet, he said, are also used for fraud and trafficking in people and other illicit goods such as firearms and images of child abuse.
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The NCCU brings together specialists from the Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) in the Metropolitan Police Service and the cyber division of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).
Bristow said hidden and anonymous online environments are a key priority for the NCA, which will use the expertise of more than 4,000 officers and the latest technology to make arrests and disrupt and prevent illegal activities.
The NCA is tackling serious and organised crime under four commands: organised crime, economic crime, border policing, and child exploitation and online protection, alongside the cyber crime unit.
As part of its work against internet threats it will lead a multi-agency team, working with international partners, to investigate and fight the threat to the UK from virtual currencies, according to The Guardian.
As part of the investigation into Silk Road, US authorities seized Bitcoins worth $3.6m from the operation, estimated to have enabled around $1m in drug sales a month.
Virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, e-gold and Liberty reserve have been key to the establishment of anonymous online marketplaces like Silk Road.