Digital Detectives Target Illegal Online Marketplaces
Illegal online marketplaces are booming but authorities now hope they have the upper hand. One of the most extensive criminal storefronts on the internet, Silk Road, has been shut down by the FBI. Part of a growing number of sophisticated websites engaging in illegal activities on the “darknet”, Silk Road was perhaps the biggest and boldest of the operations.
The Silk Road website, which has a customer-friendly electronic storefront that displayed bricks of cocaine as deftly as Amazon displays books, was the cyber-underworld’s largest black market, with $1.2 billion in sales and nearly a million customers. Beyond illegal drugs, the site served as a bazaar for fake passports, driver’s licenses and other documents, as well as illegal service providers, such as hit men, forgers and computer hackers.
Federal authorities are still mum on exactly how they were able to shut down operations but estimate that Silk Road’s operator made $80 million in commissions. Recent court documents show that authorities mixed high-tech crime fighting with old-fashioned detective work to end the illegal online transactions. They hope to send a message to other would-be ‘darknet’ entrepreneurs.
“These arrests send a clear message to criminals: The hidden Internet isn’t hidden, and your anonymous activity isn’t anonymous. We know where you are, what you are doing and we will catch you,” Keith Bristow, director of Britain’s National Crime Agency, said after the arrest Oct. 8 of four men for alleged drug offenses.