A new catch on the darknet

A new catch on the darknet

US investigators announced on Wednesday the arrest of two Israelis accused of running one of the biggest access sites to the darkweb and the illegal products sold there.

Tal Prihar, 37, was arrested Monday in Paris, while Michael Phan, 34, was arrested the same day in Israel, following an international investigation, said Scott Brady, federal prosecutor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during a press conference.

They are accused of money laundering, having co-directed the DeepDotWeb (DDW) site since October 2013 and collected some $ 15 million in commissions for the purchase of illicit goods through their site, said Mr. Brady.

Among the Goods acquired via DDW: fentanyl and other opiate drugs, hacking software, or stolen credit cards.

By dismantling the site and arresting its two alleged owners, American investigators believe they have carried out "the most disruptive operation for the operation of the darknet to date", because "it is the first to attack the infrastructure on which the darknet relies."

DDW was both a front door and an Information Centre for the darkweb, " said Brady.
"It provided not only links to illegal sales sites, but also tutorials for people who were still novices" who wanted to learn how to conduct illegal transactions.

The commissions, paid in bitcoin on each transaction made through the links referenced by DDW, would feed into bank accounts and bitcoin that the two Israelis controlled through shell companies.

Among other things, DDW allowed access to major online sales sites of the darkweb, such as AlphaBay Market, seized by the justice in 2017, or Wall Street Market, the platform that proposed drugs, false documents or malicious software whose closure was announced by the German justice on Friday.

DDW has served as an entry point for "hundreds of thousands of darknet point-of-sale users", who have been able to make hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions, according to the American justice system.

The dismantling of DDW and the arrest of the two Israelis were made possible by an investigation carried out in cooperation with the Israeli, Brazilian, German, Dutch and French authorities, welcomed Richard Downing, an official of the Federal Ministry of Justice present at the press conference
"The problem (of the darkweb) is international and the solutions are transnational", he stressed

When the darkness comes to light

With its photos and buyers ' opinion, the platform looked like any online sales site, except that it offered drugs, fake documents or malware.

After two years of an extensive international investigation, the "second largest market" in the world was shut down and five people locked up.

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Three alleged administrators of the platform, aged 22 to 31 years, were arrested at the end of April in western Germany, announced Friday the prosecutor general of Hesse.

These are Tibo Lousee, Jonathan Kalla and Klaus-Martin Frost, German nationals who are also being prosecuted in the United States, added the US Department of Justice.

Two suspected drug dealers, operating from California under the pseudo-names of LadySkyWalker and Platinum, 45 were also arrested in the United States.

All are linked to "Wall Street Market", a platform of the darknet -- the obscure part of the web not referenced by search engines -- opened in October 2016, where could be bought all kinds of drugs - cocaine, heroin, cannabis -, counterfeit documents, personal data or computer viruses.

The market had grown significantly, with more than 63,000 sales offers, approximately 5,400 vendors and 1.15 million accounts receivable.

The buyers paid with the virtual coins bitcoin and monero. The three perpetrators of the platform are suspected of having received commissions of between 2 and 6% on each sale.

The site, accessible via the Tor software which allows to hide the IP addresses of computers, was available in six languages (English, German, French, Portuguese and Italian).

"Wall Street Market functioned as a traditional eBay-or Amazon-style online sales site, but its only purpose was to allow smuggling," according to a US court document.

One of its pages, reproduced in this document, shows the categories "drugs", "jewellery and gold", "fraud", "malware", "counterfeiters ' equipment"... Each product has an introductory leaflet with a photo, a name and a rating, from zero to five stars, left by previous buyers.

Exit scam 

The" popularity " of Wall Street Market had, according to the American justice, increased after the disappearance on March 25 of a competitor, attracting new customers and sellers.

Its administrators had then launched an exit scam, transferring to their personal accounts about $ 11 million blocked on the platform. These funds were amounts paid by the purchasers that should have been transferred to the vendors once delivery was completed.

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This type of scam is common on the darknet, and American investigators suspect the Wall Street Market administrators to have wiped out a previous platform "German Plaza Market" in this way in 2016.

Their arrests were carried out following joint investigations by the German, American and Dutch police services, as well as by Europol, the European agency for cooperation between criminal police forces.

"The deal sends a very clear message: the markets of the darknet are no longer a safe haven," commented a senior U.S. judicial official, Brian Benczkowski.

During searches of the suspects ' apartments, more than 550,000 euros in cash and large amounts of virtual money were seized. Cars and computer equipment were also recovered, as well as a weapon.

In the United States, this dismantling has led to the seizure of assets worth several million euros.

It also identified a 29-year-old Brazilian, suspected of having worked as a "moderator" on the platform under the pseudo "Med3l1n".

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