Cyber Crime, Dark Markets

179 Darknet Market Vendors Arrested Across the Globe in a Large Police Operation: DisrupTor

Today at 3 PM CET, Europol and the US Department of Justice sent press releases regarding what the DoJ presented as "The Largest International Law Enforcement Operation Targeting Opioid Traffickers on the Darknet".

DisrupTor was not strictly speaking a single action, but series of joint operations coordinated by Europol, and with the support of multiple law enforcement agencies in Austria, Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, the UK, and the US. This operation lasted nine months in total and could be carried on thanks to the exploitation of information obtained from the Wall Street Market shut down in May 2019.

DisrupTor led to the arrest of 179 vendors: 121 in the US, 42 in Germany, 8 in the Netherlands, 4 in the UK, 3 in Austria, and 1 in Sweden. Along with these arrests, the equivalent of USD 6.5 million (in cash and cryptocurrencies), 500 kilograms of various drugs, and 64 firearms were seized.

Along with the press releases, the usual narrative:

The golden age of dark web marketplace is over. Operations such as these highlight the capability of law enforcement to counter encryption and anonymity of dark web market places. Police no longer only takes down such illegal marketplaces – they also chase down the criminals buying and selling illegal goods through such sites.

Wall Street market was closed in the beginning of May 2019 by the German police in collaboration with Europol and various law enforcement agencies in Europe and the US. At the same time, Valhalla market was closed by the Finnish customs. At this point, WSM had over 1,150,000 users and 5,400 vendors, and LEA seized half a million euros in cash, and "Bitcoin and Monero in 6-digit amounts".

The number of arrests is indeed quite impressive. Still, compared to the number of vendors that were registered in the platform, we can only incur that business will continue as usual for darknet markets. If we look at the proportion of arrests, it represents up to 3.31% of WSM vendors (actually less, as some accounts were run by multiple persons).

For reference, DarkMarket, one of the biggest active market today, has 1,819 vendors. Considering the arrests were carried on during nine months, and that Empire Market (which was multiple times bigger than DarkMarket) exit scammed a few weeks before, it is reasonable to think (pure speculation) that a good number of vendors arrested were not active on Dark Market.

Specifics on how LE found the vendors are not shared. We can incur that LE used methods such as tracking Bitcoin payments, getting information from messages between vendors, customers, and moderators when PGP was not used, undercover operations, ...

All the names and nicknames of the vendors were not released (maybe because LE are currently using their accounts to catch some more users?), but we have some information on a couple of them:

  • "Stealthgod", was a group of five defendants in Southern California that allegedly were involved in about 18,000 transactions, and was active on multiple markets.
  • Arden McCann, going under the names of "XanaxLabs", "Pasitheas", "DRXanax", "TheMailMan", "WhiteYellowGreen", "XanaxBloters" was arrested in Canada in February this year, and allegedly distributed USD 13 million worth of Xanax (more details on darknetlive)
  • Khlari Sirotkin, Kelly Stephens, Sean Deaver, Abby Jones, and Sasha Sirotkin were allegedly distributed more than one million fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills and laundered approximately USD 2.8 million, and were arrested in January this year (DoJ). The group formed in 2013 and was active in Silk Road, Empire, Dream, Sleep, and Nightmare Markets. They used nicknames such as "Killa Kells", "oxxxymoron", "Interstatefatz", "Fatz", "Abby Fatz". (source Cincinnati)
  • William Anderson Burgamy, and Hyrum T. Wilson were involved in mailing at least 19,000 units of prescription medication. Burgamy was operating as "NeverPressedRX (NPRX)" on the darknet, and Wilson (who was a pharmacist) was mailing him medications. The arrests occurred in April this year (more details here and here)
  • Aaron Brewer, was involved in at least 757 drug shipments sent to 609 unique addresses between December 2019 and March 2020.

While the operation is advertised as the biggest operation on darknet markets for opioids ever, the cash (and crypto currencies) seizures are not that significant. Calculating an average by vendor arrested would make 36,312 €. For reference, when closing Alphabay, law enforcement seized the equivalent of USD 8.8 million in Bitcoin, Etherum, Monero, and ZCash.

The drugs (500 kilograms in total, 2.8 kilograms by vendor in average) however could have a relatively big value on the market, as the seizures included entanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and MDMA. This article lists the median prices (obtained by Grams, so a few years old) for cocaine at USD 97.39, and USD 37.07 for MDMA.

To put the 500 kilograms in perspective, these are a few numbers provided by the European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Addictions regarding seizures in Europe, Turkey, and Nordway in 2019:

  • 22.9 tons of  heroin in 50,000 seizures
  • 1.7 tons of MDMA in 31,000 seizures
  • 13.4 tons of amphetamine in 40,000 seizures
  • 1.4 ton of methamphetamine in 19,000 seizures

On a different note, one of the ex-moderators of Icarus market said that the FBI was likely involved with the sudden exit scam (see the article here). Since no announcement was made related to this, it seems even more unlikely than before.

Sources:

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