On Thursday November 6th 2014, an operation led by Europol and the FBI against the « Drugs Ebay », the Silk-Road and four hundred other online platforms was a big success. According to Europol’s report, this operation had for objective to « put an end to the sale, distribution and promotion of dangerous and illegal articles ». The Head of Europol Center against Cybercriminality (EC3), Troels Oerting declared that day that « [they] had hit services using TOR or the Darknet, where for a long time criminals thought they were out of reach. […] Criminals can run, but they cannot hide ».
The Silk-Road, an anonymous market
The Silk-Road website, in its first version was shut down in october 2013 after the arrest of its presummed founder, Ross Ulbricht. On this website, anonymous custommers were offered to purchase illegal goods. Indeed, anyone who had an interest in drugs, heavy weapons and other harmful items could purchase them freely. The transactions were, of course, not made through the normal system of credit or debit cards, but using virtual money such as Bitcoins. The Silk-Road generated a monthly revenue of eight-million dollars and allowed illegal goods to be distributed to over a hundred-thousand users since its creation, according to the US Prosecuters in charge of the inquiry.
Also, the website comprised over thirteen-thousand adds for the sale of controled substances and one thousand, seven-hundred and seven for marijuana. Fake Ids were also offered as well as very elaborated hacking equipment. Hence, the entire paraphernalia of a cyber-criminal was made available to the many.
An example of globalized police action
The efforts led together by the FBI and European police forces, coordinated by Europol made « Operation Onymous » a success. This operation did not only stop the illegal activities of one of the biggest and better known actors of the Darknet, it also put an end the the illegal retailing of four hundred websites. Seventeen people were arrested throughout the operation that was led in more than seventeen different countries. The equivalent of a million dollars in Bitcoins were ceased along with a hundred and eighty thousand Euros in cash and metal. According to Le Monde, half a dozen of the principal illegal websites remained deactivated on november 6th (Hydra, Cloud 9, Pandora, Blue Sky). Other big websites remained available on novembre 7th 2014. The success of this international operation shows how US and EU police forces can join together to fight against cybercriminality in a globalized world.
Infiltrated : ancient methods for new offences
In a press release communicated by Europol, the organization explains that one of their agents was infiltrated in the group in charge of the administration of the Silk Road and could access restricted parts of the website. The agent could then trace the main suspect, a twenty-six years old man who then was arrested by the FBI in San-Francisco on november 6th 2014. It’s interesting to note that, even if the offence is a 2.0. one, the way to make it stop was a 1.0. one. We could have imagined that police forces had created a special system to track cyber-criminales and then trace their IP addresses, but it did not happen that way. Perhaps it is reassuring to know that old inquiry methods, that proved efficient in the past, still are in the age of the web.
There is still a long way to go…
Robert Anderson, of the FBI’s Department for Cybercriminality, insists on the fact that the fight against cybercriminals remains one of the FBI’s principal priorities and that the organisation will continue working together with Europol and EU state police services towards that direction. He affirms that cybercriminality is a vast and unknown world where the police and the legislator has little grip. Police cooperation seems to be the key to stopping cybercriminals. The fact that the Silk Road was back online only weeks after its first shut-down and that it took another year to shut it dow again, shows that when one head falls, another would grow back, better hidden and more agile.
M.UNTERSINGER, « Le créateur présumé de Silk Road 2.0, site de vente de drogue sur internet, a été arrêté », Le Monde, 06/11/2014
ANONYME, « Global action against dark markets on Tor network », Europol, Communiqué de Presse du 07/11/2014