Law enforcement agencies from 28 countries across the globe have met at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague to share knowledge and expertise and discuss a co-ordinated approach towards tackling crime on The Dark Web.
Through the European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3), Europol has been supporting the investigation of criminal marketplaces on The Dark Web for some years now by dint of sharing tools, tactics and techniques. The Dark Web hosts many of the critical marketplaces for several criminal organisations and individual illegal activities in Europe and around the world. Due to its structural characteristics – ie the possibility to buy and sell anonymously and the fact that it’s a digital space that knows no national borders – The Dark Web is a fertile environment for criminals.
In recent years, several successful co-ordinated investigations were able to take down some of the largest Dark Web markets, undermining the assets exploited by criminals. In particular, last summer the joint operations led by the US’ FBI and the Dutch National Police, with the support of Europol and other law enforcement partners, served to shut down Alphabay and Hansa, two of the largest marketplaces responsible for the trading of over 350,000 illicit goods including drugs, firearms and cyber crime tools.
In these specific marketplaces, where bitcoins were the dominant payment method, different types of illegal goods and criminal services were sold, even though more than two-thirds of transactions were for illicit drugs and chemical substances.
Owing to the success of these operations, the volume of transactions has decreased and some traders have left The Dark Web platform due to anxiety, uncertainty and the risks regarding the level of anonymity. After the take down operations, many vendors who had their shops closed twice in short succession were not inclined to open them again, while the distrust between vendors and buyers has demonstrably increased.