Combined efforts by Finnish customs and police saw the shutdown of Sipulikanava, a Finnish website on the dark web under suspicion that the website provided a haven for drug dealers and buyers to interact and trade without fear of repercussion.
The website was brought down on 1 November 2017. However, this information was only made public on 7 June 2018 by Finnish law enforcement.
Sipilukanava first came online on 13 March 2014, and with time, it became one of Finland’s online hotspots for drug trafficking.
The website’s operation and administration first came under customs’ radar in 2017 when it became obvious that an individual using the alias Ekstaasikauppa, who had been under previous investigation, had acquired narcotics through the website.
All this was discovered after customs shut down vendors on Sipilukanava by who went by the alias Douppingkauppa in 2016.
The individuals who ran the dark web vendor account were later apprehended by the police.
The arrest of those individuals helped the police in building their case against Ekstaasikauppa.
A sales advertisement for narcotics on Sipilukanava’s market section prompted Ekstaasikauppa to contact the vendor via a messaging service for arranging for the delivery of the products.
It is not clear which messaging service was used, however, the use of anonymous messaging services has become quite popular in darknet market business transactions.
Because they are quite convenient and relatively secure, they continue to grow in popularity.
This is not to say that anonymous messaging services are perfect, as they do have their disadvantages and the decision to use them remains with the parties involved in the trade.
From 31 October to 1 November 2017, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Special Investigations Branch of the Helsinki Police Department and Customs conducted an operation, which saw them execute a search warrant on the home of the persons suspected to be the masterminds behind Sipilukanava in Vantaa, Finland.
Much to law enforcement’s satisfaction, they found and collected significant amounts of technical evidence tying the suspects to Sipulikanava as well as a small amount of drugs.
They were further able to learn how the site was maintained and what equipment was used for its maintenance.
The main suspects are two individuals who have yet to be charged but are being held under suspicion of aggravated drug offences and aiding and abetting aggravated drug offences.
Based on primary investigations, the crimes were found to have been committed between 2016 and 2017; this time was when drug trading was booming in the market section of the website.
The suspects are expected to be charged with thirty-seven counts of aggravated drug offences.
The individual tasked with maintaining the website, a 45-year-old computer specialist, might face charges for distributing narcotics due to the presumed fact that he set up the market section of the website and supervised its operation.
The police also seized the personal web server of the chief suspect at his workplace; the server is believed to be a backup server for the website.
It is likely that the suspect had the backup server at his workplace because he felt it would be safe there and wanted to keep an eye on it, but this is speculation and to be determined if he broke the law by doing so.
Since he installed the server at his workplace without his employer’s permission or knowledge, his employer will not be facing any charges.
How It Operated
The website’s layout was meant to be a platform for legitimate discussions on various topics.
However, the individual in charge of maintaining the site had other things in mind. He initially included a market section which would later be used for the trade of narcotics.
The market section worked like most darknet markets: the vendor would advertise his/her products by posting a relevant information about the product and his/herself, including a brief description of the product accompanied by a picture, price, quantity and messaging id to reach the vendor.
Buyers were also given a chance to advertise their requirements and post their own messaging id.
With the help of anonymous messaging, buyers and sellers interacted and traded vigorously.
In 2016, the person in charge of maintaining the website upgraded the market section by subdividing it to different sections based on locations; this significantly improved its efficiency.
Drug Trafficking on the Dark Web
To those who frequent or have any knowledge of the dark web, it should come as no surprise that drug trafficking activities are conducted there.
Sipulikanava is just another website among many on the dark web which has been brought down for suspicion or confirmation of facilitating illict business.
Historically, the most popular and notable ones have been the Hansa, AlphaBay and Silk Road darknet markets.
But, according to a report by the Global Drug Survey, purchasing illegal drugs online is more popular in Finland than in any other country.
The survey shows that 46 percent of Finns surveyed bought drugs on the dark web, which presents a large gap between them and the second-placed England, which was at 25 percent, followed by USA at 18 percent, Germany at 7 percent, and Denmark at 5 percent.
According to information security expert Juha Nurmi, the dark web has nearly 10,000 visitors at any given time.
Given the quantity of people who visit the dark web in Finland, the majority of which for the purpose of conducting illegal affairs, it is quite puzzling as to why the takedown of Sipulikanava is the first major action by Finnish law enforcement in combatting crime on the dark web.
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