Police close hundreds of 'Darknet' sites
Police have closed hundreds of online "dark" markets selling illegal drugs, weapons and services, arresting 17 people in a massive international operation against the Tor network that allows users to be invisible online.
Investigators from the United States and 16 European countries, including France, Germany and Britain, on Thursday "undertook a joint action against dark markets running as hidden services on Tor network," the Europol police agency said in a statement.
Tor is an encryption service that masks a computer user's identifying IP address, allowing them to set up private web connections in what is known as the Darknet -- a hidden network used for both licit and illicit ends.
"The action aimed to stop the sale, distribution and promotion of illegal and harmful items, including weapons and drugs, which were being sold on online 'dark' marketplaces," Europol said.
A total of 414 sites have been seized and closed down in the operation codenamed "Onymous", but Europol declined to say how it had identified vendors and administrators on the supposedly anonymous Darknet.
The operation seized virtual Bitcoins, used to carry out transactions, worth one million dollars (800,000 euros), 180,000 euros in cash as well as unspecified drugs.
"We are not 'just' removing these services from the open Internet," said Troels Oerting, the head of Europol's EC3 cybercrime unit.
"This time 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.
"- Silk Road -Cybercrime expert Lodewijk van Zwieten at the Dutch public prosecutor's office said: "This is not the end.
""Behind these markets sit people who earn millions of euros.
It's their turn next," Van Zwieten said on the prosecutor's website.
US authorities on Thursday said they had shut down a reincarnation of the Silk Road online black market bazaar for drugs and other illicit goods and charged its alleged 26-year-old operator.
US prosecutors say Silk Road 2.
0 enabled more than 100,000 people to buy and sell illegal drugs and other contraband anonymously over the Internet after its predecessor was shut down in 2013.
Blake Benthall was arrested by the FBI in San Francisco on Wednesday and faces charges including conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in forged documents and money laundering conspiracy.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Silk Road announced in a message last November it had reopened, declaring it had "risen from the ashes" a month after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation originally took it down.
Its alleged original mastermind, Ross William Ulbricht, who is accused of using the handle "Dread Pirate Roberts" to run the site, is awaiting trial in New York.
In February, he pleaded not guilty to drug and money laundering charges.
Prosecutors described Silk Road 2.
0 as one of the most extensive, sophisticated and widely used criminal online marketplaces.
It was virtually identical to its predecessor and accessible only through Tor, originally an acronym for The Onion Router.
Designed as an anti-censorship navigator, Tor affords web anonymity by shifting the apparent identity of a user's computer around the world by changing its IP address.
© 2014 AFP