US, Europe police close hundreds of 'Darknet' sites
European and US police have arrested 17 people and closed hundreds of "dark" markets selling illegal products and services in a joint operation against the Internet's supposedly anonymous Tor network.
Police 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," European police agency Europol said in a statement.
Tor is an online encryption service that protects a computer user's unique identifying IP address, used to set up private web connections in what has become known as the Darknet -- a hidden network used for both licit and illicit activities.
"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 on Friday.
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.
"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 down the website.
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.
Tor is an anti-censorship navigator that affords web anonymity by shifting the apparent identity of a user's computer around the world by changing its IP address.
© 2014 AFP