Global dark-net busts involve Latvian police too

The Europol Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce in the Hague announced Friday that it has completed Operation Onymous, a world-wide digital investigation netting many arrests and seized servers involved in drug, arms and other forms of illegal web-based dealing based on the cybercurrency bitcoin.

Law enforcement officials from 18 national agencies were in the Netherlands for six months coordinating a team of field investigators working for the European Cyber Crime Center (EC3), its head Troels Oerting told the UK’s Guardian news source.

While the most notorious of the illicit websites named in the raid was Silk Road 2.0, altogether more than 400 others, including the domains Cloud Nine, Hydra, BlueSky, Outlaw Market and Alpaca, were reported to have been targeted for shut-downs. All of them were able to conduct their illicit business thanks to the Tor anonymity-protecting network.

A total of 17 suspects have been detained around the world, including six persons from the UK, reported the Guardian, following the arrest of two men in Dublin, whose drug distribution centre was linked to offshore bank accounts and third-country operations.

Europol, in a statement, said U.S. and European cybercrime units, in a sweep across 18 countries, had netted $1 million worth of Bitcoin, the digital currency, 180,000 euros in cash, silver, gold and narcotics.

Police in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland were all involved in Operation Onymous.

In October 2013 Silk Road 1.0 was shut down after the anonymous online marketplace attracted lots of dealers and buyers of drugs working in bitcoin as a darknet community. However, a year later dozens of new fora have proliferated in its place, prompting the Operation Onymous to pursue its sting.

"They had set up complete business models, just like any web shop. They display what they sell: drugs, weapons, stolen credit cards. People paid and they delivered by the mailman," Oerting said. "There was even a ranking system for reliable suppliers."

The illegal organizations used the so-called tor computer network, which allows users to communicate anonymously by masking their IP address, to run so-called "dark" markets.

"We have also hit services on the Darknet using Tor where, for a long time, criminals have considered themselves beyond reach. We can now show that they are neither invisible nor untouchable."

The operation involved Europol's European Cybercrime Center, the FBI and U.S. immigration and Homeland Security officials.

Tor, short for the onion router, is also used by activists in countries where the web is censored.

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