179 arrested in massive dark web bust

The sting is said to be the US Government’s largest operation targeting crime in the internet’s seedy underbelly

Law enforcement agencies from around the globe have swooped down on dozens of purveyors of illegal goods on the dark web. No fewer than 179 vendors of illicit goods have been handcuffed in an operation dubbed DisrupTor, which comprised several separate but complementary operations and was the result of a collective effort mostly by North American and European authorities.

Europe’s law enforcement agency, Europol, lauded the success of the raids in a press release, with Edvard Šileris, the director of its European Cybercrime Centre, saying: “Law enforcement is most effective when working together, and today’s announcement sends a strong message to criminals selling or buying illicit goods on the dark web: the hidden internet is no longer hidden, and your anonymous activity is not anonymous. Law enforcement is committed to tracking down criminals, no matter where they operate – be it on the streets or behind a computer screen.”

As noted by the United States’ Department of Justice, DisrupTor comes on the heels of two similar busts from the recent past. In March 2019, a global operation dubbed SaboTor resulted in the arrests of 61 suspected peddlers of illegal goods on the dark web. Two months later, another successful sting brought the takedown of Wall Street Market – the second-largest dark web online market dealing with the sale of illicit wares.

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The quantitative intelligence the operation yielded allowed investigators to identify suspects behind the accounts used to conduct illegal business. Which led to 179 sellers of illicit wares ending up in custody across Europe and the US, and the seizure of thousands of illegal goods including over US$6.5 million comprising both cash and cryptocurrencies as well as some 500 kilograms worth of addictive substances and drugs, and weapons.

US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen touted the significance of the operation: “Criminals selling fentanyl on the Darknet should pay attention to Operation DisrupTor. The arrest of 179 of them in seven countries—with the seizure of their drug supplies and their money as well—shows that there will be no safe haven for drug dealing in cyberspace.”

While the investigations are still ongoing and law enforcement officers are busy identifying further suspects, arrests have been made in multiple countries. The United States leads the pack with 121 arrests, with Germany following suit on 42. The Netherlands nabbed eight suspects, while the United Kingdom detained four, Austria has apprehended three and Sweden captured one person.

Earlier this year, European law enforcement agencies were also able to crack an encrypted chat network, which ultimately led to the arrest of over 800 suspected criminals.

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