The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) has said that it has dealt a "major blow to dark web markets." In a statement issued on the 7th November the NCA says that a coordinated operation between law enforcement agencies in Europe and the US has "targeted market places for illegal commodities on the dark web" and as part of this six people in the UK were arrested.
Amongst those arrested in strikes closely coordinated with international partners in the US were the suspected administrators of Silk Road 2.0, the Tor accessed drugs and firearms market place. The NCA statement also claims that "significant vendors of illegal drugs through the dark web" were also arrested and that "technical infrastructure which is key to the hosting of illegal market places on the dark web" were taken down.
So what will the impact of this operation be? That's hard to say, not least because it has been a commonly held belief that Silk Road 2.0 was compromised from the get go following the takedown of the original Silk Road site and arrest of alleged owner Ross William Ulbricht who is said to have been the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts. At the time I said that "it would be a brave, or foolhardy, person who started trading in illegal goods using it" and that prediction appears to have been accurate.
Mind you, according to a report by security investigative journalist Brian Krebs it seems that plenty of dealers were using the site. He points to evidence that as of September 2014, Silk Road 2.0 was generating sales of at least approximately $8 million per month and had approximately 150,000 active users.
The FBI and agents from the Department of Homeland Security arrested a 26 year old man from the San Francisco area, Blake Benthall, on suspicion of being “Defcon” who was running the new Silk Road site. He has been charged with drug trafficking, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and money laundering. At face value the case against him looks pretty strong, what with the insistence of the authorities that a Homeland Security undercover agent had infiltrated Silk Road 2.0 from the very first stages when a forum was created to discuss where to go after Silk Road was taken down. That, and what appears to be a rather stupid mistake by Defcon in that the Silk Road 2.0 servers were registered using a genuine email address used by Benthall.
This last piece of evidence, however, also opens the door to suggestions that the whole Silk Road 2.0 affair is not quote as clear cut as it may appear. After all, would someone with the knowledge, experience and kudos within the underground community really be so stupid as to use his own email address to rent the servers? And it would be stupid, almost suicidally so, given the interest that the FBI were going to be taking in it. Whatever, if found guilty of the conspiracy to commit narcotics trafficking charge he faces a mandatory 10 year sentence and a maximum of life.
Roy McComb, Deputy Director of the National Crime Agency, warns that “the operation is ongoing and more arrests can be expected as we continue to investigate those involved in setting up and profiting from these illegal market places. Criminals like to think that the dark web provides a safe, anonymous haven but in reality this is just like any other organised crime network. It may take time and effort to investigate and build a criminal case, but we are determined to identify and prosecute people caught dealing drugs and committing serious crime using the dark web.”