Police around the world have arrested 150 suspects involved in buying or selling illegal goods online in one of the largest-ever stings on the dark web, according to Europol.
Operation DarkHunTOR also recovered millions of euros in cash and Bitcoin, as well as drugs and guns, the European Union’s police agency said on Tuesday.
The bust stems from a German-led police sting earlier this year taking down the “world’s largest” dark web marketplace, which had been used by its alleged operator, an Australian, to facilitate the sale of drugs, stolen credit card data and malware.
Dark HunTOR, “was composed of a series of separate but complementary actions in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States,” the Hague-based Europol said.
In the United States alone, police arrested 65 people, while 47 were held in Germany, 24 in the UK, and four each in Italy and the Netherlands, among others.
A number of those arrested “were considered high-value targets” by Europol.
Police officers also confiscated 26.7 million euros ($31m) in cash and virtual currencies, as well as 45 guns and 234kg (516 pounds) of drugs, including 25,000 Ecstasy pills.
Italian police also shut down the “DeepSea” and “Berlusconi” marketplaces, “which together boasted over 100,000 announcements of illegal products”, said Europol, which coordinated the operation together with its twin judicial agency Eurojust.
“The point of operations such as this is to put criminals operating on the dark web on notice (that) the law enforcement community has the means and global partnerships to unmask them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities, even in areas of the dark web,” Europol Deputy Director of Operations Jean-Philippe Lecouffe said.
The dark web is a hidden collective of internet sites only accessible by specialised web browsing software. It keeps online activity anonymous and private, making it harder for law enforcement agencies to track criminal behaviour.
But it can also be used to protect whistleblowers and help others evade government censorship.