Towards the end of May, law enforcement agencies from 28 countries converged on the Europol headquarters in The Hague to discuss a coordinated approach to tackling crime on the dark web.
Experts from a number of organisations and government bodies, including Eurojust, the European Commission, Interpol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) contributed to the event, sharing knowledge and expertise.
Chief Commissioner Ivaylo Spiridonov, Director of the Bulgarian General Directorate Combating Organised Crime, delivered the opening remarks on behalf of the current Presidency of the Council of the EU and highlighted that “today’s expert assembly will further enhance the law enforcement’s ability to find sustainable solutions and a common coordinated approach to respond to criminality on the dark web”.
Tackling Crime on the Dark Web
Through the European Cybercime Centre (EC3), Europol has been supporting and assisting in the investigation of criminal marketplaces on the dark web for a number of years. By sharing tools, tactics and techniques, law enforcement agencies are able to better combat criminal elements operating in the shadows of the online world.
The dark web hosts many of the more critical marketplaces for highly organised criminal organisations as well as individual illegal activities around the globe. It is the dark web’s anonymous nature that makes it a very fertile environment for criminals.
Dedicated Dark Web Teams
Europol’s aim is to create a coordinated process to tackle criminal operations on the dark web with the participation of agencies from across EU Member States, as well as involving public agencies and third parties.
To do this, Europol has established a dedicated Dark Web Team – embedded in its EC3 team – to work together with EU partners, delivering a complete coordinated approach through sharing information, providing operational support and expertise and the development of tools and techniques to conduct investigations.
Coordinated approaches by law enforcement have already proven their worth in regard to tackling the issue of the dark web. Therefore, it is imperative that future drives for increased information sharing are encouraged.
Speaking at the event, Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol said: “The event also marks the official launch of the new Europol Dark Web Team which will provide operational and technical support to law enforcement in thwarting criminality on the dark web in a coordinated and multidisciplinary manner”.
Several successful coordinated investigations have occurred in recent years, which resulted in the take down of some of the largest dark web markets – massively undermining assets exploited by criminals. In 2017, joint-operations led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Dutch National Police shut down Alphabay and Hansa, two of the largest marketplaces responsible for the trading of over 350,000 illicit goods such as drugs, firearms and cybercrime tools.
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin were often the dominant payment method in these marketplaces, offering criminal organisations an anonymous and hard-to-track method of payment. Due to the success of law enforcement, the volume of transactions has decreased and some traders have even left the dark web platform due to concerns over anonymity.
This increasing distrust in the platform demonstrates clearly that law enforcement is making significant headway in stopping the dark web acting as a conduit for criminal activity.