Massive Takedown Shutters Cyber-Crime Services on Tor Network

The FBI, Europol and other agencies cooperate to shut down hidden services dealing in illicit goods on the Tor anonymizing network.

Cybercrime TakedownB

International law enforcement agencies teamed up to take down more than 410 alleged criminal services operating on the Tor anonymizing network, and arrested 17 operators and administrators, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Europol.

Law enforcement agencies in 16 European countries and the United States carried out raids and made arrests as part of the worldwide operation, which was announced on Friday and aimed to deter the sale of weapons and drugs on the anonymizing network.

Law enforcement agents seized Bitcoins worth approximately $1 million as well as $225,000 in cash, drugs, gold and silver. As part of the operation, U.S. officials shuttered the popular Silk Road 2.0 dark market and announced the arrest of the alleged operator.

"Today we have demonstrated that, together, we are able to efficiently remove vital criminal infrastructures that are supporting serious organized crime," Troels Oerting, head of European Cybercrime Center (EC3), said in a statement. "And we are not 'just' removing these services from the open Internet; this time we have also hit services on the Darknet using Tor where, for a long time, criminals have considered themselves beyond reach."

The coordinated attack on criminal operations on the anonymized Tor network comes a year after U.S. authorities closed down the original Silk Road dark market and arrested a 29-year-old man, Ross Ulbricht, on charges of money laundering, drug trafficking and hacking for allegedly operating the site.

On Thursday, federal authorities arrested Blake Benthall, age 26, of San Francisco on charges of operating the Silk Road 2.0 dark market, which was created in November 2013. As of September 2014, the illicit site was generating nearly $8 million every month, according to the FBI. The site sold drugs, such as ecstasy and marijuana, as well as fraudulent identification and hacking tools, according to the U.S. Department of Justice statement announcing the arrest on Nov. 5.

Benthall was arraigned Nov. 6 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on charges of conspiracy to commit narcotics trafficking, hacking, and trafficking in fraudulent identification documents. U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley ordered Benthall transferred to New York in the custody of U.S. marshals to face prosecution.

"Let's be clear—this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "Those looking to follow in the footsteps of alleged cybercriminals should understand that we will return as many times as necessary to shut down noxious online criminal bazaars. We don't get tired."

Law enforcement's ability to track down operators on the Tor anonymity network has worried some privacy experts. In the original Silk Road case, prosecutors claim that the operator had inadvertently leaked information and allowed them to identify his server. Privacy advocates have argued that the FBI's version of events makes little technical sense.

In the end, law enforcement agencies are trying to convince criminals that, even on the Internet, they can be found.

"We can now show that they are neither invisible nor untouchable," EC3's Oerting said. "The criminals can run but they can't hide."

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...