Through a large-scale, coordinated international campaign, Europol has shut down two prolific dark web marketplaces, arresting those responsible for the markets and seizing over €550,000 in cash, in addition to cryptocurrencies, vehicles, computers, and data storage.
One of the marketplaces—the
Wall Street Market—was the world's second largest illegal online market, with more than 1,150,000 users and 5,400 vendors, according to Europol. The marketplace enabled the trade of drugs (including cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and amphetamines), stolen data, fake documents, and malicious software. Payment was made in cryptocurrencies, and the alleged marketplace officials received commission payments of 2 to 6 percent of the sales value.
The operation, coordinated by Europol and involving officials from the German Federal Criminal Police, the Dutch National Police, Eurojust, and various U.S. organizations, also resulted in the arrest of three suspects in Europe and two of the marketplace's highest-selling suppliers of narcotics in the U.S.
Earlier this year, Finnish authorities shut down the marketplace Silkkitie (or the Valhalla Marketplace), one of the oldest and best-known illegal trade sites. Afterward, some Finnish narcotics traders moved their activities to other illegal trade sides, such as Wall Street Market. Finnish Customs seized entire web servers and the contents of the Valhalla market, as well as a significant seizure of Bitcoins.
According to Europol's executive director, Catherine De Bolle, "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."
Europol has been striving to create a coordinated law enforcement approach to address dark web crime, and it has established a dedicated Dark Web Team to work with global partners and law enforcement. The team will facilitate information sharing; provide operational support and expertise in different crime areas; develop tools, tactics, and techniques to conduct dark web investigations; and identity threats and targets.
However, despite Europol's recent victories, WIRED reports that the dark web ecosystem is more resilient than it may seem, as the demand for illegal drugs remains constant or growing, and if a large marketplace is taken down, dozens emerge to take its place.
For example, the Silk Road market was shut down in late 2013, but by 2017, another site had risen up and become far bigger than the Silk Road had ever been. Already, just weeks after Valhalla and Wall Street Market were taken down, another site now lists 28,000 drug products for sale.