US federal officials and European law enforcement groups in over a dozen countries said Friday that they shut down more than 400 illegal websites — uncovering the tracks of website operators even as those operators used specialized anonymity software.
Authorities said they made the arrests by figuring out the identities of Tor users. Tor is free software meant to encrypt, or hide, actions on the Internet. While the law enforcement officials said they identified website operators who were using the software, Internet security experts told The Wall Street Journal that it’s unlikely they actually cracked through Tor’s complicated encryptions.
The websites, or so-called “dark markets,” were selling illicit goods including illegal narcotics, firearms, stolen credit card data and counterfeit currency, the FBI said. Authorities also arrested 17 people, seized computer hardware, cryptocurrency bitcoins worth $1 million and more than $200,000 in cash, drugs, gold and silver.
The announcements from the FBI and European authorities came a day after US federal officials said they had arrested Blake Benthall, a 26-year-old identified in connection with the operation and ownership of Silk Road 2.0. The illegal marketplace was similar to the original Silk Road site, which was shut down more than a year ago.
Tor — originally TOR, or “The Onion Router” — was first developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory and is currently funded in part by the US State Department and Department of Defense. By unveiling the identities of the website operators, authorities signaled they may have gotten more than a fleeting grasp on one of the hidden corners of the Internet.
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