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Four Brits cuffed as global cyber-crime forum Darkode busted

62 warrants served worldwide as feds spring their trap

By Alexander J Martin, 16 Jul 2015

Coordinated action from law enforcement and judicial authorities across the world has succeeded in taking down Darkode, an English-language cybercriminal forum.

Darkode.com was established in 2007 and was as notable for its size and popularity as for the malicious activities transacted there, which included carding, selling rootkits and malware, botnet rental, as well as the hackers' labour itself.

The site was hit this week by an operation led by the FBI and supported by Europol's European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), and included rozzers from 20 countries, whose technical takedown was coordinated from command posts in Pittsburgh and The Hague.

Europol has announced 28 arrests, although reports from Brazil have suggested arrest warrants were served against more than 62 hackers worldwide.

Blighty's National Crime Agency (NCA) states that the 28 arrests mentioned by Europol were made around the world at the same time as the site takedown, "bringing the total number of people arrested for suspected offences linked to Darkode to 70, across 20 countries."

Europol stated that this signifies "the end of Darkode, the most popular English-speaking hacking forum ranking in the top five of the most prolific criminal forums worldwide, a ranking otherwise dominated by Russian-speaking criminal platforms."

Membership of the cybercrime forum was by proposal by an existing user, followed by their posting a resumé of skills and achievements which would exemplify how they could contribute to the community.

The membership structure was hierarchical. Accredited users had account controls which determined who they could communicate with, and their access to the commodities and services on offer.

The NCA announced that a 26-year-old man from Coventry was arrested by the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit, who was questioned and subsequently bailed pending further inquiries. The NCA added that:

Five other people [see below] believed to have been members of Darkode have previously been arrested by officers from the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit, which has led and coordinated the UK element of the operation.

  • A 26-year-old man from Biggin Hill, Kent, arrested in November 2013
  • A 25-year-old man from Caterham, Surrey, arrested in July 2014
  • A 20-year-old man from Barking, Essex, arrested in July 2014
  • A 23-year-old man from Marlborough, Wiltshire, arrested in March 2015
  • A 53-year-old non-UK national, arrested in Essex in March 2015

Even though there were several scandals and rumours of the forum being compromised during the course of its existence (as written about by infosec researcher Brian Krebs) Darkode was the place to go to if you were an English-speaking cybercriminal, according to Europol.

Steven Laval, senior investigating officer at the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit, said: "This has been a truly global operation, targeting both the infrastructure of an online hub for high-end cybercrime, and suspected members of its criminal community."

He added that "despite the exclusive nature of Darkode and the technical skills of its users, this action shows once again that we can identify and pursue those we believe are seeking to offend through an apparently secure online environment, far removed from their victims." ®

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