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400 dark net sites raided in drug take-down operation

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An international task force has conducted raids and arrests in 16 countries aimed at shutting down a series of websites including Silk Road 2.0 that illegally sell drugs and weapons.

A 26-year-old, Blake Benthall, was arrested in San Francisco and is being accused of running Silk Road 2.0, which is the largest illicit drugs marketplace on the Internet.

"Today we have demonstrated that, together, we are able to efficiently remove vital criminal infrastructures that are supporting serious organised crime," said Troels Oerting, head of Europol's European cybercrime center. "And we are not 'just' removing these services from the open Internet; this time we have also hit services on the dark net using Tor where, for a long time, criminals have considered themselves beyond reach."

Police across Europe and the U.S. spent six months planning and coordinating the series of raids, which eventually led to over 400 illegal marketplaces being taken offline.

According to a statement by Kumar Kibble, the Homeland Security Investigations' attaché in Germany, the raids disrupted online marketplaces in several illegal markets, including child pornography, weapons distribution, drug trafficking and murder-for-hire.

Including Benthall, there were a total of 17 arrests between Europe and the U.S. Law enforcement officers also seized digital currency bitcoins worth $1 million, as well as gold, money and drugs.

It is unclear how authorities cracked the dark websites involved in the raid, even though they used the anonymous Tor software. The cracking of the software, which has been used for both good and bad things, is likely seen as a warning to other dark website owners. These "dark" websites essentially are used to match anonymous buyers and sellers of things like weapons or drugs.

Tor itself is a network that cannot be entered using standard web browsers such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. In order to access the network users need the Tor Browser. Tor itself is an acronym for "the onion router," which refers to the way in which Tor has multiple layers of encryption.

Silk Road 2.0 was formed after authorities shut down the original site in November 2013. Recently, Silk Road 2.0 had around 150,000 monthly users and was making $8 million in monthly sales, with $400,000 in monthly commission. Silk Road 2.0 reportedly had over 14,000 listings for "drugs," including 1,921 for "Ecstasy." Benthall, the site's owner, faces charges of narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering.

The websites that were seized now open to a page that reads "THIS HIDDEN SITE HAS BEEN SEIZED," along with logos of government agencies including the F.B.I. and Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency.

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