While most of the time dark web operators get away with their crimes of selling illicit drugs, weapons and whatnot, in a massive joint operation by Europol and the U.S. led to arrests of over 170. The arrested individuals allegedly sold drugs including opioids, weapons and other illegal goods on the darknet.

Named as DisrupTor, the joint operation was launched in 2019 following the takedown world's second-largest dark web marketplace, Wall Street Market, that served over 1.15 million customers. The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) said they gathered intelligence from those arrests in the operation named SaboTor and identified the drug traffickers beginning a new investigation.

It led to the arrests of 179 individuals including 121 in the U.S., 42 in Germany, besides individuals from the Netherlands, the U.K., Sweden and Austria.

Dark web
The joint operation was conducted by Europol's Cyber Security Division and US' FBI, DoJ and the DEA Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Drugs, Weapons, Cash Seized

DisrupTor, which lasted for nine months, resulting in the seizure of over $6.5 million worth in cash and virtual currencies and over 500 kilograms of drugs worldwide. Of that seizure, 274 kilograms of drugs that included fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and addictive prescription medicines were found in the U.S. alone. Law and enforcement also found 63 firearms.

The dark web operators were identified as AlphaBay, Dream, WallStreet, Nightmare, Empire, White House, DeepSea and Dark Market among many others. "By leveraging complementary partnerships and surging resources across the U.S. government and Europol, Operation DisrupTor was used to significantly disrupt the online opioid trade and send a strong message that criminals operating on the Darknet are not beyond the reach of law enforcement," the DoJ said in a statement.

The investigators part of JCODE, FBI's multi-agency taskforce, and Europol arrested a Canadian citizen named Arden McCann, who imported a huge amount of Xanax, fentanyl and its variants into the U.S. from Canada and China.

His drugs allegedly led to an overdosed death in 2016. Beside him, Khlari Sirotkin (36, Colorado), Kelly Stephens (32, Colorado), Sean Deaver (36, Nevada), Abby Jones (37 Nevada) and Sasha Sirotkin (32, California) were also charged 21 counts of drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy.

Coronavirus and Dark Web Activities

Interestingly, the dark web activities saw a huge increase during the lockdowns imposed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Cybersecurity researchers said that the dark web marketplaces saw a 495-percent surge in their business during the last few months.

"With the spike in opioid-related overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that today's announcement is important and timely. The FBI wants to assure the American public, and the world, that we are committed to identifying Darknet drug dealers and bringing them to justice," FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

While darknet operators hide behind Tor networks and route their networks through VPNs (virtual private networks), law and enforcements are catching up. During the operation SabaTor, a failed VPN network led to the unraveling of the marketplace. For now, although the operation DisrupTor has managed to disrupt the market as it targeted individual vendors, it remains to be seen if they can apprehend the masterminds — large networks of dark web operators.