Dark Web Crackdown Yields 288 Arrests

A man typing in the dark | Image by Dmytro Tyshchenko/Shutterstock

A large-scale dark web drug bust was carried out by U.S. and international law enforcement agencies resulting in mass arrests, as well as the seizure of drugs, cash, cryptocurrency, and guns.

The U.S. Department of Justice revealed details on a massive international effort to crack down on online criminal marketplaces. According to the May 2 news release, the operation has been running since October 2021.

Known as Operation SpecTor, coordinated actions by federal agencies across the U.S., Europe, and Brazil resulted in the seizure of $53.4 million in cash and cryptocurrency, 850 kilograms of drugs, and 117 firearms. A total of 288 individuals were arrested.

The scale of the operation was described as “unprecedented” by Attorney General Merrick Garland during a press conference held on May 2, according to CNBC.

Over half of the arrests were made within the U.S., Garland reported. Among these 153 U.S. suspects, one apprehended in California is believed to be behind the sale of up to $2 million worth of fentanyl and methamphetamine on the dark web.

Notably, as Europol announced the same day, law enforcement agencies recently shut down a dark web marketplace for illicit goods called Monopoly Market.

German authorities laid the groundwork for this part of the operation by obtaining data on the marketplace’s criminal infrastructure in December 2021.

Hundreds of local investigations on vendors and buyers were thereby made possible by analyzing and cross-matching the data. Cases may yet be made against thousands of new suspects as vendors’ seized client lists are investigated.

Other recent takedowns include that of the darknet marketplace Hydra in April 2022 and the online identity theft site Genesis Market in April 2023.

In the case of Hydra, U.S. and German authorities coordinated to dismantle what the Justice Department referred to as “the world’s largest and longest-running darknet market.”

Approximately $25 million in Bitcoin was seized by the authorities, while it is believed that transactions totaling approximately $5.2 billion occurred since the marketplace began in 2015.

Genesis Market would allow users to obtain citizens’ access credentials to various online accounts, such as banking or email. Using these digital “fingerprints,” fraudsters would be able to bypass anti-fraud detection systems and assume another’s identity.

In a sting dubbed Operation Cookie Monster, lists of Genesis Market buyers were compiled and sent to domestic law enforcement agencies, per a news release from the Justice Department.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Garland passed a message to cybercriminals.

“You can try to hide in the furthest reaches of the internet, but the Justice Department will find you and hold you accountable for your crimes,” Garland said, according to CNBC.

U.S. agencies involved in Operation SpecTor include the DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the IRS, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

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