Dark Web Crackdown: 288 Arrested in Global Drug Market Bust 

Published on
03/05/2023 05:31 PM
Dark web crackdown

Almost 300 people have been arrested in an International operation targetting the infamous dark web drug trafficking marketplace 'Market Monolopy'.

The operation saw the arrest of 288 suspects following raids in the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Switzerland, Poland and Brazil, as well as the seizure of 117 firearms, 850 kilograms of drugs and $53.4 million in cash and virtual currencies. 

Dubbed, SpecTor, the crackdown was a joint effort between Europol and the US Department of Justice in collaboration with 9 countries spanning three continents and is the most successful dark web bust to date. 

Suspects are accused of using the dark web marketplace ‘Monolopy Market’ to buy and sell drugs including amphetamines and . The illicit marketplace has been on the dark web since 2019 and had served as a criminal hub. 

German authorities seized the cybercriminal marketplace in late 2021, but law enforcement did not publicly announce the seizure to give itself time to compile evidence against its users/ 

It’s a tactic that has been used effectively in previous dark web busts, most notably in the takedown of the major dark web markets Hansa and AlphaBay in 2018 and 2017.  

In a statement, Europol said that more arrests are yet to be made, and will include people simply using the illegal marketplace to buy drugs as well as sellers and admins. 

"A number of investigations to identify additional individuals behind dark web accounts are still ongoing," the European cops noted in announcing the arrests. 

"As law enforcement authorities gained access to the vendors' extensive buyer lists, thousands of customers across the globe are now at risk of prosecution as well," Europol added, channelling a recent warning from the FBI that Uncle Sam is also putting the squeeze on criminal customers and not just sellers.

The arrests include Christopher Hampton of Cerritos, California who was found to be heading an organisation that obtained bulk fentanyl to create fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine and sold millions to thousands of customers online. 

Law enforcement found that Hampton was active on at least nine dark web marketplaces and allegedly sold nearly $2 million worth of drugs on two of these alone. 

An international effort

The operation comes just months after international law enforcement raided the home of alleged hackers from a ransomware group that attacked and stole millions from hospital systems including the UK’s National Health Service in 2017. 

It also follows the takedown of one of the largest darknet marketplaces, DarkMarket, in 2021, which saw international authorities arrest 150 alleged drug vendors. 

Raj Samani, SVP Chief Scientist at Rapid7 says that the collaboration between international police forces allows law enforcement to effectively down on illegal activity online. 

“Seeing collaboration between different police forces to disrupt dark web marketplace ‘Monopoly Market’ sends a clear message to online criminals,” Samani said. 

“Absolute anonymity does not exist, and carrying out activities on the dark web under the assumption that it is risk-free is entirely false. International law enforcement working together, and where necessary with private industry, is critical in our efforts to combat digital crime."

“The Justice Department Will Find You” 

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said today in a speech that the US Department of Justice would continue working with the international community to prevent cybercriminal activity on the dark web. 

“Operation SpecTor was a coordinated international law enforcement effort, spanning three continents, to disrupt drug trafficking on the dark web and represents the most funds seized and the highest number of arrests in any coordinated international action led by the Justice Department against drug traffickers on the dark web,” said Garland. 

"Our message to criminals on the dark web is this: You can try to hide in the furthest reaches of the internet, but the Justice Department will find you and hold you accountable for your crimes.”

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