Law enforcement officials from Australia, Europe and US met last month in Netherlands to plan a global crackdown on darknet markets that deal in illicit goods, from drugs to child exploitation.
This two day conference held in Hague aimed at organizing an international action against this illicit trade.
The project named ITOM (Illegal Trade in Online Marketplaces) started two years ago with the support of Europol, which is Europe’s police organization and Eurojust, which is the EU’s judicial agency.
The project’s focus will be on Netherlands, after the successful elimination of Silk Road and Silk Road 2.0 in the past year, which were two of the biggest darknet markets dealing in all kinds of illicit services and goods.
After these darknet markets were seized, it was known that Dutch sellers contributed almost 10 percent of the total products sold on Silk Road 2.0, with a turnaround of $34 million.
These Dutch goods mainly went to places like Australia, Britain, Germany and France.
An international law enforcement operation in November 2014, called Operation Onymous, successfully shut down over 400 hidden websites that were operational on the darknet.
The Investigating agencies like Europol and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), conducted months of surveillance so as to close these sites as a part of a major effort to fight against the growing flow of illegal services and goods through marketplaces accessible online and established forums.
Last year Operation Onymous saw the arrest of 17 people and seizure of 410 servers that were being run on the Tor encryption network including other darknet markets such as Silk Road 2.0.
Another five suspects were later arrested by Dutch police, who were the active players on the illicit markets. Bitcoins worth 500,000 euros were also seized.
In another case, one of the biggest drug dealers in IJmuiden near Amsterdam was arrested. Huge amounts of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy, which were being traded on the dark markets of LowLands and HollandOnline were seized.
Under the operation Onymous, several different techniques were used to bring down the thriving darknet markets on the web.
The experts working under this operation exploited the vulnerabilities existing in these marketplaces.
Attacks such as SQL injection were used to acquire access to their servers.
In addition, the Tor network was targeted by making changes in the Tor protocol headers using rogue relays.
Law enforcement agencies have described Silk Road 2.0 as one of the most advanced and extensively used marketplaces dealing in all sorts of illicit goods.
It is identical to its predecessor in many aspects.
Both these websites were run on Tor and used the virtual currency Bitcoin.
Before the Ulbricht’s arrest from a library in San Francisco, investigators went through a painstaking process of putting together his digital footprint and deriving useful information out of it.
Some of the first known posts promoting Silk Road were made by the user “altoid,” who was Ulbricht himself.
The investigators were able to find a Google account linked to his name, which later revealed his identity.
It is also known that the FBI obtained a complete copy of the server of Silk Road by identifying its hosting provider.
They would have then contacted the hosting provider for an appropriate action to be carried out.
As innumerable new markets have opened, more efforts by the agencies are expected in near future to continue to dominate the darknet markets that are already on their growth path, offering various products from cannabis to stolen credit cards.
The application of law is quite difficult in these messy underground darknet markets.
Although, the police had made major arrests in November 2014 during the Onymous operation, they still face major challenges in keeping pace with the technology.
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