Police in New Zealand and a number of international law enforcement agencies have taken part in a week-long crackdown on people who buy drugs from dark web marketplaces.
Operation Hyperion – which took place at the end of last month and involved organisations including Europol, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the UK’s National Crime Agency – resulted in the arrest of six people and 66 formal cautions.
One suspect is facing 13 charges of importing cannabis, ecstasy and LSD, while another was held in connection with the running of the now-defunct dark web marketplace VicUnderworld. The 22-year-old is scheduled to appear in court on Friday. Globally, the operation identified nearly 300 individuals suspected of being involved in the sale of illicit substances.
During the operation, officers seized a range of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD and PVP. Detectives spoke to buyers with a view to uncovering information on the dealers who supplied them.
“The clear message for people who think they can use the internet to buy illegal drugs and get away with it is that they can’t,” New Zealand Police’s National High Tech Crime Group Manager Kelly Knight said.
“These sites are not top secret. Police can view them, and together with customs we can track packages down to addresses and individuals.”
The dark web, a network of hidden sites that cannot be viewed using standard internet browsers or search engines, is relatively easy to access. Computer users with a rudimentary understanding of how the internet works can download special software such as the Tor browser to gain access to dark web marketplaces that sell weapons, child porn, drugs, fake IDs and contract killing services, along with a range of other illicit products and services.
Despite its growing reputation as an online supermarket for contraband, a recent report from internet security firm Terbian Labs found that over half of all content on the dark web is entirely legal, and in some cases quite mundane.
According to the report, pornography makes up just 6.8% of all Tor traffic, with illegal porn such accounting for just 1% of content. Drugs-related content was linked to 12.3% of Tor URLs, while fraud, exploitation and extremism accounted for 1.3%, 1% and 0.2% respectively.
“What we’ve found is that the dark web isn’t quite as dark as you may have thought,” said Emily Wilson, Director of Analysis at Terbium Labs.
“The vast majority of dark web research to date has focused on illegal activity while overlooking the existence of legal content.
“We wanted to take a complete view of the dark web to determine its true nature and to offer a holistic view of dark web activity, good and bad.”