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Massive dark web bust seizes $6.5 million from 179 alleged drug dealers

The international operation leads to arrests in the US, Germany, United Kingdom, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden.

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As part of Operation DisrupTor, the Los Angeles Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team confiscated about 120 pounds of methamphetamine, 15 pounds of MDMA and five firearms in mid-February.

Operation DisrupTor

The US Justice Department announced the largest dark web bust it has ever helped carry out, seizing more than 1,100 pounds of drugs from 179 alleged online dealers around the world. The US worked with police in Europe to carry out the investigation, seizing more than $6.5 million in cash and virtual currencies. 

Operation DisrupTor -- named after the private web browser Tor frequently used to access the dark web -- was led by police in Germany, along with US law enforcement agencies and Europol. 

The majority of the arrests took place in the US with 121 cases, followed by 42 cases in Germany, eight cases in the Netherlands, four cases in the United Kingdom, three cases in Austria and one case in Sweden. Police said investigations are still ongoing to identify people behind these dark web accounts. 

The dark web is a catch-all name for hidden parts of the internet that you can't easily discover through an online search. It often hosts marketplaces for selling illegal goods like drugs, stolen data and weapons

The operation announced on Tuesday was the "largest ... to date" for the US against the dark web, US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said at a press conference. Charges included those against a group called "Pill Cosby" that allegedly distributed more than 1 million fentanyl-laced pills in Ohio and against a man who allegedly bought data that belonged to a murdered couple in Georgia. Prosecutors in Virginia also charged someone who allegedly sought to bomb a competing drug dealer, according to the Justice Department.

"These darknet marketplaces have grown in popularity at an alarming rate and allow drug traffickers to openly advertise and take orders from anywhere in the world," Rosen said. "The dark net invites criminals into our homes and provides unlimited access to illegal commerce."

Operation DisrupTor used information from another major darknet market raided in April 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray said. International agencies took down the Wall Street Market, one of the largest dark web marketplaces online.   

Investigators said they've tracked down more than 18,000 listed sales to alleged customers in at least 35 states and in several countries around the world. Wray noted that there's been a spike in opioid-related overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the FBI will continue investigating dark web drug markets. 

"Today's announcement sends a strong message to criminals selling or buying illicit goods on the dark web: the hidden internet is no longer hidden, and your anonymous activity is not anonymous," Edvardas Sileris, the head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre, said in a statement.