DarkMarket, the largest marketplace on the dark web, has been taken offline in a major international police operation.
The site was taken down by German police in the city of Oldenburg and its servers shut down.
German authorities were helped by police from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Moldova, Switzerland, Ukraine, the UK, and the US, with coordination from Europol.
An Australian citizen, alleged to be the operator of the site, was arrested in Germany near the Danish border as part of the operation. Additionally, more than 20 servers in Moldova and Ukraine were seized in the investigation.
The suspect has been placed in pre-trial detention after refusing to speak before a judge.
“The stored data will give investigators new leads to further investigate moderators, sellers, and buyers,” a Europol statement said.
Dubbed the dark web’s Ebay, DarkMarket provided a platform to around 2,400 vendors who offered a range of illegal goods to the site’s customer base of almost 500,000.
Europol estimated that the site has made over 320,000 transactions in its lifespan and seen transfers of over 4650 bitcoins and 12,800 monero, another cryptocurrency, which equates to a sum of around 140 million euros.
Some of the products advertised on the dark web market included illegal drugs, counterfeit money and malware tool.
According to German prosecutors, valuable leads that led to the removal of DarkMarket were discovered during another investigation against web-hosting service Cyberbunker, which hosted servers linked to file sharing website The Pirate Bay.
Cyberbunker was physically located in a former Nato bunker in south-western Germany.
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Dark Market follows the model established by perhaps the most well-known online black market hosted on the dark web, Silk Road. Launched in 2011, it was shut down in 2013, with its successor Silk Road 2.0 shut down in 2014.
The sites are accessible by using an anonymised browser called Tor, and most sites use Bitcoin payments to further protect their users’ identities and make purchases harder to trace.
The dark web offers a wide range of illicit goods, many of which pose a major risk to enterprises and individuals. In recent months, a range of fake Covid-19 vaccines have appeared on a range of dark web marketplaces, taking advantage of concerns and ignorance surrounding the coronavirus.
In addition, dark markets provide the main platform for leaking data stolen in ransomware attacks. A study found that billions of stolen login credentials are currently circulating on dark web forums. Since the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent leap in video messaging services, an estimated half a million Zoom logins are currently available for sale on the dark web.