Europol on Tuesday said it shut down DarkMarket, the world’s largest online marketplace for illicit goods, as part of an international operation involving Germany, Australia, Denmark, Moldova, Ukraine, the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA), and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
At the time of closure, DarkMarket is believed to have had 500,000 users and more than 2,400 vendors, with over 320,000 transactions resulting in the transfer of more than 4,650 bitcoin and 12,800 monero — a sum total of €140 million ($170 million).
The illegal internet market specialized in the sales of drugs, counterfeit money, stolen or forged credit card information, anonymous SIM cards, and off-the-shelf malware.
In addition, the months-long intelligence operation also resulted in the arrest of a 34-year-old Australian national near the German-Danish border over the weekend, who is alleged to be the mastermind behind DarkMarket.
According to The Guardian, DarkMarket came to light in the course of a major investigation against the web hosting service CyberBunker, which served as the web host for The Pirate Bay and WikiLeaks in the past.
The takedown of DarkMarket also saw law enforcement seizing the criminal infrastructure, including more than 20 servers in Moldova and Ukraine, that was used to conduct the operations.
“The stored data will give investigators new leads to further investigate moderators, sellers, and buyers,” Europol said.
DarkMarket may have been turned off, but underground marketplaces such as Joker’s Stash continue to be a hotbed for trading malicious software, with the pandemic contributing to a spike in goods or services for carrying out social engineering scams.
Previously, Dream Market, another top dark web marketplace, ended operations in April 2019, and a Europol-led police operation also shut down Wall Street Market and Silkkitie (also known as the Valhalla Marketplace) a month later in May 2019.
The Wall Street Market had 1.15 million users and 5,400 sellers of drugs, malware, and other criminal goods.
Then last August, Empire Market, a popular darknet marketplace for buying and selling drugs, mysteriously went offline, implying an exit scam that has plagued illegal darknet markets.
These changes have led cybercriminals to find alternative ways to build trust and sell their wares, including leveraging encrypted email services like Sonar and Elude, private channels on Discord to facilitate transactions, and a website called “DarkNet Trust” that aims to verify vendors’ reputations by searching through usernames.
“These marketplaces shift and evolve like legitimate spaces, adapting to buyer needs, supply issues, and new technology,” Trend Micro researchers said in a report published last year detailing the volatile nature of underground markets. “Available commodities and prices respond quickly to issues in the public sphere.”