Operation Onymous

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Europol HQ in The Hague Europol Building; The Hague; Eisenhowerlaan; Statenkwartier; 2014; photo nr. 41860.jpg
Europol HQ in The Hague

Operation Onymous was an international law enforcement operation targeting darknet markets and other hidden services operating on the Tor network.



Operation Onymous was formed as a joint law enforcement operation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the European Union Intelligence Agency Europol. [1] The international effort also included the United States Department of Homeland Security, [2] Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Eurojust. [3] The operation was part of the international strategies that address the problems of malware, botnet schemes, and illicit markets or darknets. [2] It was also linked with the war on drugs effort with the participation of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). [4]



On 5 and 6 November 2014, a number of websites, initially claimed to be over 400, were shut down including drug markets such as Silk Road 2.0, Cloud 9 and Hydra. [5] [6] Other sites targeted included money laundering sites and "contraband sites". The operation involved the police forces of 17 countries. [7] In total there were 17 arrests. [5] A 26-year-old software developer was arrested in San Francisco and accused of running Silk Road 2.0 under the pseudonym 'Defcon'. [8] Defcon was "one of the primary targets". [5] Within hours of the seizure a third incarnation of the site appeared, 'Silk Road 3.0'; Silk Road had previously been seized in October 2013, and then resurrected, weeks later, as 'Silk Road 2.0'. [9]

$1 million in Bitcoin was seized, along with 180,000 in cash, gold, silver and drugs. [10] Of the "illicit services" that were initially claimed to have been shut down, [7] few were online marketplaces like Silk Road. A complaint filed on 7 November 2014 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, "seeking the forfeiture of any and all assets of the following dark market websites operating on the Tor network", referred to just 27 sites, fourteen of which were claimed to be drug markets; the others allegedly sold counterfeit currency, forged identity documents or stolen credit cards. [11]

US and European agencies sought to publicise the claimed success of their six-month-long operation, which "went flawlessly". [12] The UK National Crime Agency sent out a tweet mocking Tor users. [13] The official Europol press release quoted a US Homeland Security Investigations official, who stated: "Our efforts have disrupted a website that allows illicit black-market activities to evolve and expand, and provides a safe haven for illegal vices, such as weapons distribution, drug trafficking and murder-for-hire." [10] [12]

Other leading drug markets in the Dark Web were unaffected, such as Agora, Evolution and Andromeda. Whereas Silk Road did not in fact distribute weapons, or offer contract killings, Evolution did allow trade of weapons as well as drugs. [14] Prior to the closure of Silk Road 2.0, Agora already carried more listings than Silk Road, and Evolution was also expected to overtake it. [5] [15] Agora and Evolution are more professional operations than Silk Road, with more advanced security; the arrest of the alleged Silk Road manager is thought to have been largely due to a series of careless mistakes. [13] [14] [16]

The figure of 414 dark net sites, which was widely reported internationally, and appeared in many news headlines, [17] [18] [19] was later adjusted without explanation to "upward of 50" sites. [13] [20] [21] The true figure is thought to be nearer to 27 sites, to which all 414 .onion addresses direct. [16] [20] [22] [23] Australian journalist Nik Cubrilovic claimed to have discovered 276 seized sites, based on a crawl of all onion sites, of which 153 were scam, clone or phishing sites. [24]

Tor 0-day exploit

The number of sites initially claimed to have been infiltrated led to the speculation that a zero-day vulnerability in the Tor network had been exploited. This possibility was downplayed by Andrew Lewman, a representative of the not-for-profit Tor project, suggesting that execution of traditional police work such as tracing Bitcoins [25] was more likely. [17] [13] [26] Lewman suggested that such claims were "overblown" and that the authorities wanted to simply give the impression they had "cracked" Tor to deter others from using it for criminal purposes. [25] A representative of Europol was secretive about the method used, saying: "This is something we want to keep for ourselves. The way we do this, we can’t share with the whole world, because we want to do it again and again and again." [5]

It has been speculated that hidden services could have been deanonymized if law enforcement replicated the research by CERT at Carnegie Mellon University up until the July 30th patch that mitigated the issue. [27] If sufficient relay nodes were DDOSed which would force traffic to route over the attacking nodes, an attacker could perform traffic confirmation attacks aided by a Sybil attack. Logs released by the administrator of Doxbin partially supported this theory. [28]

Court documents released in November 2015 [29] generated serious research ethics concerns in the Tor and security research communities [30] [31] about the warrantless exploit [32] (which presumably had been active in 2014 from February to 4 July). [33] The Tor Project patched the vulnerability and the FBI denied having paid Carnegie Mellon $1 million to exploit it. [34] Carnegie Mellon also denied receiving money. [35]

See also

Related Research Articles

A dark net or darknet is an overlay network within the Internet that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorization, and often uses a unique customized communication protocol. Two typical darknet types are social networks, and anonymity proxy networks such as Tor via an anonymized series of connections.

Silk Road (marketplace) 2011–2014 darknet market known for the sale of illegal drugs

Silk Road was an online black market and the first modern darknet market, best known as a platform for selling illegal drugs. As part of the dark web, it was operated as a Tor hidden service, such that online users were able to browse it anonymously and securely without potential traffic monitoring. The website was launched in February 2011; development had begun six months prior. Initially there were a limited number of new seller accounts available; new sellers had to purchase an account in an auction. Later, a fixed fee was charged for each new seller account. Silk Road provided goods and services to over 100,000 buyers.

European Cybercrime Centre

The European Cybercrime Centre is the body of the Police Office (Europol) of the European Union (EU), headquartered in The Hague, that coordinates cross-border law enforcement activities against computer crime and acts as a centre of technical expertise on the matter.

Bitcoin network Peer-to-peer network that processes and records bitcoin transactions

The bitcoin network is a peer-to-peer payment network that operates on a cryptographic protocol. Users send and receive bitcoins, the units of currency, by broadcasting digitally signed messages to the network using bitcoin cryptocurrency wallet software. Transactions are recorded into a distributed, replicated public database known as the blockchain, with consensus achieved by a proof-of-work system called mining. Satoshi Nakamoto, the designer of bitcoin, claimed that design and coding of bitcoin began in 2007. The project was released in 2009 as open source software.

The dark web is the World Wide Web content that exists on darknets: overlay networks that use the Internet but require specific software, configurations, or authorization to access. Through the dark web, private computer networks can communicate and conduct business anonymously without divulging identifying information, such as a user's location. The dark web forms a small part of the deep web, the part of the Web not indexed by web search engines, although sometimes the term deep web is mistakenly used to refer specifically to the dark web.

Agora was a darknet market operating in the Tor network, launched in 2013 and shut down in August 2015.

Evolution (marketplace)

Evolution was a darknet market operating on the Tor network. The site was founded by an individual known as 'Verto' who also founded the now defunct Tor Carding Forum.

Doxbin Document sharing website

Doxbin was a document sharing and publishing website which invited users to contribute personally identifiable information, or "dox", of any person of interest. It was previously operated on the darknet as a Tor hidden service, by a person known on the internet as nachash. Since its takedown in 2014, nachash has stepped down and relinquished his ownership to a predecessor that used the username "King Oren" when interviewed. He said in an interview that he is hosting Doxbin on the World Wide Web, as well as on Darknet and Tor hidden service websites. He declined to release the link to either of them, saying, "The people that use the service know how to find it, that's what keeps it secure and out of the reach of incompetent people using it for malice things".

TheRealDeal was a darknet website and a part of the cyber-arms industry reported to be selling code and zero-day software exploits.

A darknet market is a commercial website on the dark web that operates via darknets such as Tor or I2P. They function primarily as black markets, selling or brokering transactions involving drugs, cyber-arms, weapons, counterfeit currency, stolen credit card details, forged documents, unlicensed pharmaceuticals, steroids, and other illicit goods as well as the sale of legal products. In December 2014, a study by Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth suggested the second most popular sites on Tor were darknet markets.

Utopia (marketplace)

Utopia was a darknet market similar to The Silk Road that facilitated sale of illegal items such as narcotics, firearms, stolen bank account information and forged identity documents. Utopia was based on Black Market Reloaded and has ties to it.

DeepDotWeb was a news site dedicated to events in and surrounding the dark web featuring interviews and reviews about darknet markets, Tor hidden services, privacy, bitcoin, and related news. The website was seized on May 7, 2019, during an investigation into the owners' affiliate marketing model, in which they received money for posting links to certain darknet markets. On which they were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. In March 2021 site administrator Tal Prihar pleaded guilty to his charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Grams is a discontinued search engine for Tor based darknet markets launched in April 2014, and closed in December 2017. The service allowed users to search multiple darknet markets for products like drugs and guns from a simple search interface, and also provided the capability for its users to hide their transactions through its bitcoin tumbler Helix.

Atlantis was a darknet market founded in March 2013, the third such type of market, concurrent with The Silk Road and Black Market Reloaded. It was the first market to accept Litecoin.

The Russian Anonymous Marketplace or RAMP was a Russian language forum with users selling a variety of drugs on the Dark Web.

The Tor Carding Forum (TCF) was a Tor-based forum specializing in the trade of stolen credit card details, identity theft and currency counterfeiting. The site was founded by an individual known as 'Verto' who also founded the now defunct Evolution darknet market.

Nik Cubrilovic is an Australian former hacker and leading internet security blogger.

Hansa was an online darknet market which operated on a hidden service of the Tor network.

Dread (forum) Online discussion forum hosted on the dark web

Dread is a Reddit-like dark web discussion forum featuring news and discussions around darknet markets. The site's administrators go by the alias of Paris and HugBunter.

Darknetlive is a news and information site covering darknet markets and other dark web activities.


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