Ever since the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the creator as well as operator of the illegal darknet market Silk Road, and the subsequent shutdown of the website, the anonymity provided by the Tor network to darknet markets has been the subject of many discussions and debates. A lot has also been discussed about how dark web users do not get the anonymity they want. This has been made clear once again by the law enforcement authorities in the wake of a recent international investigation by European authorities that helped to pull down five darknet markets. These online black marketplaces have been purportedly referred to by the law enforcement agencies as “Underground Economy Forums.”
Investigation and Arrests in the Darknet Markets
The Underground Economy Forums constitute darknet markets or online black markets that sell or conduct transactions involving drugs, dangerous weapons, stolen credit card details, and fake identifications, among many others. Other websites related to the cyber world include illegal streaming, malware, and DDoS attacks. The recent investigations targeted operators of such services. During the investigations, it was also found out by the authorities that these darknet markets made use of bitcoins for executing their transactions.
Together with different arms of law enforcement agencies at international levels, the Center of Cybercrime Control and the Frankfurt Prosecutor General’s Office conducted raids on five operators of the Underground Economy websites. It is suspected that a 27-year-old Bosnian is the main operator of as many as three of these websites. He is believed to have been operating the sites since the year 2012. In addition to this, two Germans have also been arrested in this connection. The Germans aged 22 and 27 were also caught, and one is suspected to have been playing in the darknet markets for three years. The searches yielded 250,000 euros worth of drugs. A Syrian national has also been arrested on charges of synthesizing the amphetamines range of drugs. Further, several other searches resulted in the apprehension of three more German nationals, one of whom was arrested in Netherlands. Of these, a 21-year-old has been accused of running an illegal data streaming platform. The German arrested in Netherlands has been charged with dealing dangerous drugs such as amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy through the online platforms.
In the wake of these investigations and arrests, the law enforcement agencies have been sending firm messages to young Internet users that it is easy for them to track down darknet markets and their perpetrators and prosecute them as per the existing laws. This is being done with the hope of keeping the youngsters away from their possible tryst with these darknet markets.
However, others see the shutdown of the Silk Road as responsible for facilitating the evolution of other darknet markets. Even when Silk Road is no longer present, other online black markets have sprung up in its place and continued to sell things that were banned in Silk Road. This includes guns as well as stolen data. Traders sell zero-day exploits to those who are ready to pay exorbitant amounts of money for them. These anonymous marketplaces continue to hog the limelight and are at the center of many controversies and investigations.
According to Giulio Prisco of CCN.LA, legal crackdown on the darknet markets is not the ultimate solution. This action would only push the activity into deeper morass and into the hands of other criminals. The shutdown of the more-principled operators may throw the doors open to the less-principled ones who would know only too well how to trick the law. Moreover, the darknet markets would become more open to selling even more dangerous things than just drugs.
In this context it is interesting to note that the dark web has also allowed a host of useful applications to thrive on the dark web that the IETF and IANA assigned a formal .onion domain last year.