A new wrinkle in dark web drug crisis

Sixty-five arrests were made in the U.S. last month as part of Operation Dark HunTor, targeting online drug traffickers.

It was an international effort with the Department of Justice, the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team (including the FBI, DEA, USPS, NCIS, and many more), and Europol all working together on the global operation.

Two of those arrests were in Florida, and the suspects were charged with running darknet vendor accounts on the dark web. Meaning they were selling narcotics online, including fentanyl. Over 100 individuals were charged in total, which followed the recent shutdown of Dark Market (large dark web marketplace) in early 2021.

One would assume that takedown led to the names of those targeted.

In total, 234 kilograms of various drugs were confiscated (along with 200,000 pills), and over $31.6 million in digital and paper currency were also seized during this massive 10-month operation.

These law enforcement successes are having a ripple effect on the dark web, it would appear, including the closure of White House Market. This site was one of the other dark web’s largest online marketplaces.

Dark web marketplaces usually have a history of abrupt endings, so this is not a huge shock. The story of one of the first of these markets, Silk Road, ended with its founder Ross Ulbricht behind bars for life in 2013. At its peak, it was a 1-billion-dollar operation. In 2014, a new market called AlphaBay emerged, and by 2017, it was 10 times as large as Silk Road. Its founder Alexandre Cazes was eventually detained and then found dead in his jail cell shortly after.

Next came White House Market.

White House did things very differently. They required the members to use high-level cybersecurity tools. For example, they required two-factor authentication and encryption for all users. Unlike most dark websites, there was a strict policy of no murder for hire or pornography on the site. The same went for selling fake COVID-19 vaccine cards; no weapons were for sale on their site, either. It was only a market for drugs.

The White House market also used a unique cryptocurrency called Monero, which made their transactions harder to trace.

Get this; they also had an emphasis on customer service — pretty bizarre for cybercriminals.

The fact that this market closed is not shocking, as said earlier. However, what is astonishing about the White House Market shutdown is that it appears to be on its terms. It looks like they are walking away before law enforcement catches up to them.

They posted a memo on the site saying, “We met our goals, and we’re done.”

No jail? No manhunts?

As they exit, they are leaving a lasting impression on other criminals in this space. The ideas of customer service and their twisted dark web ethics, advanced cyber protections, plus the fact that their founders did not end up dead or in jail, will have copycats following this model in short order.

Back in Florida, we have seen spikes in drug overdoses due to COVID-19 and the rising use of fentanyl in combination with other narcotics used by dealers. Therefore, we must keep pushing efforts like we are seeing from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office — not just fighting drug traffickers but also battling pharmaceutical companies and holding them responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic. Florida will get over $1.6 billion in payments thanks to her office’s success.

Whether addicts get their fix on the dark web, a dark alley, or the corner drugstore, we must keep fighting. This means law enforcement efforts, treatment, and counseling options for those who need them.

Also, just like with anything else, if you see something, report it; thank you to all the men and women in law enforcement for all you do to keep the web (and the nation) safe.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and author of “Professionally Distanced,” which can be a perfect holiday gift for the good or bad boy/girl on your list.


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