Europol arrests 150 suspects in illegal trade on dark web

In an international action against illegal trade on the dark web, 150 suspects have been arrested, including four Dutchmen. Enforcement agencies from various countries led by Europol also seized more than 26.7 million euros in cash and cryptocurrencies, 234 kilograms of drugs and 45 firearms. All of this happened under the name of Operation Dark HunTOR. This confirms the cooperation between the European Union police services and the journalistic research platform Pointer.

More arrests may follow soon

According to Europol, the suspects traded tens of thousands of goods in Europe and the United States via the dark web, the closed part of the internet for the general public. This concerns illegal products and services such as synthetic drugs, firearms, copyrighted material, child pornography, telephones with protected chat applications such as EncroChat and assassination attempts. Most of the detainees are so-called high-value targets: sellers that the investigative services have been looking for for quite some time because they have a lot to deal with.

Most of the arrests were made in the US, 65 to be exact. 47 suspects were arrested in Germany, 24 in the United Kingdom, four in the Netherlands, three in France, two in Switzerland and one in Bulgaria. The number of arrests may continue to rise in the coming days or weeks as additional investigations are conducted into various accounts on the dark web.

Operation Dark HunTOR created by taking down DarkMarket

The global operation is known internally as Operation Dark HunTOR. Rolf van Wegberg, cybercrime researcher at TU Delft, tells Pointer that this operation represents a break in the trend. “Where previously these types of operations focused on busting operators of these types of marketplaces and confiscating infrastructure, we are now seeing police forces focused on arresting the top sellers.”

The operation stemmed from the taking offline of DarkMarket, the largest illegal marketplace on the dark web since Silk Road. The platform had nearly half a million users and more than 2,400 merchants. The sale here included stolen credit card information, anonymous SIM cards, ransomware and other malware. It is estimated that a total of more than 140 million euros has been traded via DarkMarket.

In January of this year, German police arrested a 34-year-old man from Australia and took down dozens of servers containing important data. Investigation services suspect that the Australian is the owner of DarkMarket and acted as a spider in the web. During the investigation into DarkMarket, police services came across new information and suspects. This allowed operation Dark HunTOR to start.

‘Dark web is no longer a safe hiding place for criminals’

Marjolein Ruitenbeek, the communications advisor at the police, confirms that the Dutch police have arrested four suspects. “Based on Europol’s information, we investigated the two largest Dutch sales accounts on DarkMarket that were active at the time. We arrested two people from the account called Dutch Magic, just like with the account called Sankhara. New information from Europol offers opportunities for further investigation.”

Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Deputy Executive Director of Operations at Europol, tells Pointer that criminals are no longer safe on the dark web. “The police have the resources to expose cybercriminals and hold them accountable for their actions, even on the dark web. The dark web is no longer a safe place for criminals to hide,” Lecouffe said.

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