cybercrime news

A total of 179 individuals have been apprehended in a significant international operation

Operation Disruptor represents an unparalleled global endeavor by law enforcement agencies, arising from the confiscation of Wall Street Market, a widely recognized clandestine marketplace, in the previous year.

It is considered one of the most significant global dark web crackdowns to date, with 179 arrests made across six countries, 500 kilograms of drugs seized, and $6.5 million in cash and cryptocurrency confiscated. Operation Disruptor, which was announced this morning, actually began on May 3, 2019, when German police seized Wall Street Market. This underground marketplace provided international authorities with the necessary information to disrupt the dark web drug trade.

The extent of the impact that Operation Disruptor will have in the long term remains uncertain. History has shown that the dark web drug market has a tendency to recover, despite the notable downfall of prominent platforms such as the Silk Road and AlphaBay. However, it is worth acknowledging that law enforcement has become highly skilled at effectively combating these illicit activities, even if it seems like an ongoing and challenging endeavor.

Operation Disruptor unfolds in numerous court documents and approximately 120 arrests throughout the United States. In Ohio, individuals associated with a group called PillCosby have been accused of distributing more than one million pills containing fentanyl through the mail. Prosecutors in Washington, DC, claim that David Brian Pate hid thousands of OxyContin, Xanax, and morphine pills inside souvenir maracas. Additionally, a pharmacist in Nebraska reportedly intended to set fire to a local competitor after stealing their opiate inventory, as part of his alleged thriving narcotics trafficking enterprise.

The common thread among these cases, in addition to the numerous arrests made across Europe, is their origins in the dismantling of Wall Street Market last year. During that time, German authorities apprehended the suspected administrators of the site as well as two of its most active vendors. Today, Europol has confirmed to WIRED that they successfully retrieved the backend server of Wall Street Market, which has proven to be an invaluable source of evidence for investigators.

Europol press officer Claire Georges stated that the information provided facilitated the identification of individuals arrested today. The organization compiled the information and distributed intelligence packages to relevant countries. These packages contain information or documents indicating the actions of individuals in their respective countries, prompting them to consider initiating investigations. Georges further mentioned that additional arrests are anticipated in the future.

The arrests in the United States, which have been gradually revealed over the past few months, were officially announced as a comprehensive operation today. During a press conference held on Tuesday morning, Timothy Shea, the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), specifically highlighted the apprehension of Arden McCann, who is believed to operate under various aliases such as RCQueen and DRXanax on multiple dark web platforms. McCann, who was taken into custody earlier this year, stands accused of trafficking more than 10 kilograms of fentanyl and distributing over 300,000 counterfeit Xanax pills on a monthly basis.

During Tuesday's press conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that the convergence of traditional criminal activities with advanced technology has created a perfect storm. Regardless of the methods or locations used to conceal such activities, Wray emphasized that law enforcement will pursue and apprehend perpetrators.

It appears that this assertion has become more evident. The confiscation of the Wall Street Market is not the initial nor the most catastrophic instance of law enforcement intervention in a dark web marketplace. In 2017, the Dutch police assumed control over Hansa, a thriving darknet market, and the FBI dismantled AlphaBay, an even more substantial rival. As AlphaBay users sought refuge in Hansa, Dutch authorities diligently monitored their actions, meticulously documenting various details, including numerous home addresses.

The takedowns and seizures consistently result in a cumulative impact. According to Georges from Europol, these individuals do not solely operate within one market, but rather encompass the entirety of the dark web.

In the United States, the apprehensions were carried out by the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team of the Department of Justice, comprising investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Postal Service. The most recent operation conducted by J-CODE, named Sabotor, culminated in the announcement of 61 arrests in March 2019.

It is yet to be determined whether dark web drug buyers will seek alternative suppliers, particularly considering that Operation Disruptor focuses on individual vendors rather than entire marketplaces. Nevertheless, Tuesday's announcement may cause prospective dark web vendors to hesitate, as it further reinforces law enforcement's ability to penetrate supposedly anonymous realms of the internet.

During Tuesday's press conference, FBI Director Wray expressed that our organization comprises highly imaginative individuals who demonstrate remarkable innovation while adhering to legal protocols. They employ a diverse range of tools to apprehend individuals who believe they can conceal their activities within the dark net. However, Director Wray refrained from providing details regarding specific techniques employed by the FBI.