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  • Top Dark Web markets seizures in 2023

    The dark web has long been a haven for illegal activities, including the sale of drugs, weapons, and stolen data. However, law enforcement agencies around the world have increasingly cracked down on these illicit marketplaces. In 2023, several high-profile seizures demonstrated the global commitment to dismantling these networks. Here, we recount some of the most significant dark web markets seizures of the year.

    Strategies for law enforcement in combating cybercrime

    The global nature of cybercrime, encompassing cybercriminals and their technological infrastructures, necessitates international cooperation among law enforcement agencies. This collaborative effort is divided into addressing immediate cyber incidents and curbing the long-term operations of cybercriminals, particularly those operating within the dark web's clandestine confines.

    Law enforcement agencies adopt a strategic, proactive approach aimed at undermining the cybercrime business model. This involves targeting the online ecosystem that supports and facilitates criminal activities. The United Kingdom's National Crime Agency outlines the cybercrime ecosystem through five fundamental components:

    • Infrastructure: The physical and virtual technologies that enable cybercrime.
    • Financial Services: The mechanisms through which illicit earnings are processed and laundered.
    • Initial Access & Compromise: The techniques used to breach security measures.
    • Marketplaces & Forums: Online platforms where illegal goods and services are traded.
    • Victim Location: The geographical distribution of targets affected by cybercriminal activities.

    A notable instance of law enforcement's tactical operations is illustrated by Operation SpecTor. In this operation, Europol played a significant role by assembling intelligence packages from evidence collected by German authorities during the seizure of a criminal marketplace's infrastructure in December 2021. These packages, crafted through the meticulous analysis and cross-referencing of data, laid the groundwork for numerous national investigations.

    Major Dark Web markets seizures in 2023

    In 2023, law enforcement agencies worldwide continued their efforts to curb illegal activities on the dark web. These operations have led to significant seizures and closures of various dark web marketplaces:

    Kingdom Market

    Kingdom Market marketplace

    Established in 2021, Kingdom Market quickly rose to prominence in the dark web's illicit economy, facilitating the trade of illegal narcotics among its vast offerings. By the time of its takedown in December 2023, the site boasted over 42,000 listings, becoming a major hub for hundreds of sellers and attracting tens of thousands of registered users. The marketplace operated with a sophisticated payment system, accepting cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Monero, and Zcash, and imposing a 3% commission on transactions, enriching its operators while facilitating anonymous trade.

    The operation to dismantle Kingdom Market was a result of collaboration between multiple countries, including the U.S., Switzerland, Moldova, and Ukraine. Key U.S. authorities involved in the operation included the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation agency, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    A significant arrest has been made in connection with the takedown of Kingdom Market. Alan Bill, a Slovakian national who was an administrator on the marketplace under the usernames "KingdomOfficial" and "Vend0r," has been charged in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Bill faces charges of drug trafficking, identity theft, and money laundering conspiracies.

    Genesis Market

    Genesis Market

    Genesis Market, operational on the darknet, specialized in selling data containing login credentials, social media passwords, IP addresses, and other personal information from victims of identity theft and data breaches. Over its more than five-year existence, the site sold 80 million sets of identifying information, affecting over 1.5 million computers worldwide. The marketplace catered to users from nearly every country, providing a "subscription" service that offered ongoing access to compromised systems, even updating login credentials as victims changed their passwords.

    International law enforcement agencies, spearheaded by the FBI and the Justice Department, announced the successful dismantling of Genesis Market, a notorious cybercrime marketplace. Known as "Operation Cookie Monster", this coordinated seizure resulted in the arrest of nearly 120 alleged users and the shutdown of the marketplace in April 2023.

    The data sold on Genesis Market had far-reaching implications, allegedly being utilized by ransomware attackers to gain access to networks across the U.S. and globally. The stolen data encompassed credentials related to the financial sector, critical infrastructure, and all levels of government. This made Genesis one of the most prolific initial access brokers of stolen information, posing a severe threat to personal, corporate, and national security.

    Monopoly Market

    SpecTor

    In a sweeping international effort coordinated by Europol, law enforcement agencies from nine countries have successfully seized the infamous dark web marketplace, Monopoly Market. This operation, known as SpecTor, has led to the arrest of 288 suspects involved in the illicit buying and selling of drugs on the dark web.

    The SpecTor operation not only dismantled Monopoly Market in April 2023 but also resulted in the seizure of more than 53.4 million USD in cash and virtual currencies. Law enforcement officials confiscated 850 kilograms of drugs and 117 firearms. The seized drugs included over 258 kilograms of amphetamines, 43 kilograms of cocaine, 43 kilograms of MDMA, and more than 10 kilograms of LSD and ecstasy pills.

    The success of Operation SpecTor was made possible through the concerted efforts of law enforcement agencies across Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Switzerland.

    AlphaBay Market

    AlphaBay market

    AlphaBay Market, once one of the most prominent dark web marketplaces, ceased operations in February 2023 under mysterious circumstances. The sudden disappearance of the site led to widespread speculation about its cause, with theories ranging from a law enforcement takedown to an internal exit scam orchestrated by the site's administrators. AlphaBay had been a hub for a wide array of illegal goods and services, including drugs, stolen data, and hacking tools, serving a global network of users seeking anonymity and untraceability.

    Piilopuoti

    Piilopuoti marketplace

    In a notable crackdown on cybercrime, Finnish authorities, in collaboration with Europol, Eurojust, and law enforcement agencies from Germany and Lithuania, have successfully seized Piilopuoti, a Finnish-language dark web marketplace.

    Launched last year as a hidden service on the Tor network, Piilopuoti was designed to offer a platform for the anonymous trade of narcotics, among other illicit goods. The marketplace facilitated the smuggling of drugs into Finland from abroad, exploiting the Tor network's capabilities for secure and untraceable internet browsing and communication.

    The operation to take down Piilopuoti involved an extensive investigation by Finnish Customs, in close cooperation with international partners and private cybersecurity firms. The collaborative effort culminated in the seizure of the site's web server contents and the replacement of the domain's homepage with a seizure notice.

    Conclusion

    The seizures of these dark web marketplaces in 2023 highlight the increasing effectiveness of law enforcement agencies worldwide in combating online criminal activities. Through international collaboration and the use of advanced technological tools, authorities are making significant strides in disrupting the operations of these illicit markets. The success of these operations not only disrupts the supply chain of illicit goods and services but also sends a potent message to those operating within the shadows of the dark web.

    Author Earl Sanders
    What is the Dark Web?
    Best Dark Web sites in 2024

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