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Police forces have taken down two prolific dark web marketplaces in simultaneous global operations supported by Europol.
The German Federal Criminal Police have shut down the Wall Street Market, supported by the Dutch National Police, Europol, Eurojust and various US government agencies, while the Silkkitie or Valhalla Marketplace and its contents were seized by Finnish Customs in close cooperation with the French National Police.
A Europol-supported coordinated law enforcement approach across Europe and the US was key to the success of the two investigations, the European police agency said.
“These two investigations show the importance of law enforcement cooperation at an international level and demonstrate that illegal activity on the dark web is not as anonymous as criminals may think,” said Catherine De Bolle, executive director at Europol.
Police believe the Wall Street Market was the world’s second-largest dark web market, enabling trade in drugs, stolen data, fake documents and malicious software (malware). The dark web market was exclusively accessible via the Tor network and aimed at international trade in criminal goods.
Most recently, more than 63,000 sales offers were placed on the online marketplace and more than 1.15 million customer accounts and more than 5,400 sellers registered.
Users of the online marketplace paid with the cryptocurrencies bitcoin and monero. The alleged marketplace officials are said to have received commission payments of 2% to 6% of the sales value.
German police arrested three suspects and seized more than €550,000 in cash, cryptocurrencies bitcoin and monero in six-digit amounts, several vehicles and other evidence, such as computers and data storage.
In the US, during the investigation by the attorney general in Los Angeles, two of the highest-selling suppliers of narcotics were arrested.
The Silkkitie Marketplace is one of the oldest dark web marketplaces, and is believed to have been in operation since 2013, selling narcotics and other illicit goods.
Finnish Customs reportedly made a significant bitcoin seizure after closing down the site, which resulted in some Finnish narcotics traders moving their activities to other illegal trade sites in the Tor network, such as the Wall Street Market.
Europol said it has created a coordinated law enforcement approach to tackle crime on the dark web with the participation of law enforcement agencies from EU member states, operational third parties and other relevant partners, such as Eurojust.
As part of the initiative, Europol has established a dedicated dark web team to work with EU partners and law enforcement across the globe to reduce the size of this underground illegal economy.
Europol said the dark web team aims to provide a coordinated approach by: sharing information; providing operational support and expertise in different crime areas; developing tools, tactics and techniques to conduct dark web investigations; and identifying threats and targets.
The team also aims to enhance joint technical and investigative actions, organise training and capacity-building initiatives, together with prevention and awareness-raising campaigns.
“A shared commitment across the law enforcement community worldwide and a coordinated approach by law enforcement agencies has once again proved their effectiveness,” said the police agency.
“The scale of the operation at Europol demonstrates the global commitment to tackling the use of the dark web as a means to commit crime.”