Europol sets up team to tackle dark web crime

Europol has teamed up with law enforcement across the EU to form a dedicated unit to fight illicit trade on the dark web.

The initiative, announced at a meeting at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague on May 29, aims to deliver “a complete, coordinated approach: sharing information, providing operational support and expertise in different crime areas and the development of tools, tactics, and techniques to conduct dark web investigations and identify top threats and targets.”

The dark web hosts many of the more critical marketplaces for several criminal organisations and individual illegal activities in Europe and around the world, according to Europol.

Due to its structural specificities – the possibility to buy and sell anonymously and the fact that it is a digital space that knows no national borders – it is a fertile environment for criminals, it says.

Europol has been supporting operations against Dark Web criminals for many years, but the formation of a dedicated unit will “provide operational and technical support…in a coordinated and multidisciplinary manner,” according to the agency’s executive director Catherine De Bolle. The unit will operate as part of the agency's European Cybercrime Centre.

Last year, Europol supported takedown operations led by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Dutch National Police that resulted in the closure of Alphabay and Hansa, two notorious online markets for criminals selling drugs, firearms, other illegal goods, and cybercrime tools such as malware.

The two operations have resulted in a significant reduction in the volume of illicit transactions “and some traders have left the dark web platform due to anxiety, uncertainty and the risks regarding the level of anonymity,” it says.

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