Embedded within the agency’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), the new team will also work together with law enforcement globally in an effort to reduce the size of the underground illegal economy
Europol has set up a dedicated Dark Web Investigations Team that brings together law enforcement agencies from across the EU and other relevant partners, according to a press release by the European Union’s law enforcement agency.
The announcement came as representatives of law enforcement authorities from 28 countries met at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague, The Netherlands, earlier this week in order to “share knowledge and expertise and discuss a coordinated approach to tackling crime on the dark web”.
The team’s activities will cover what Europol describes as a “360° strategy against criminality on the dark web”: sharing information, providing operational support and expertise, identifying threats, and developing of tools and strategies to launch probes on the internet’s seedy underbelly. It will also organize training sessions and campaigns aimed at preventing and raising awareness of cybercrime.
The dark net is a breeding ground for crime, giving anyone with ill intentions the opportunity to sell or buy all manner of illicit wares: illegal drugs and chemical substances, firearms, counterfeit money, malicious software and bespoke cyberattacks, stolen credentials and credit card details, the list goes on.
Sharing tools, tactics, and techniques, Europol has been supporting the investigation of criminal marketplaces on the dark web for a number of years now. In summer 2017, a global operation took down two of the largest dark markets, AlphaBay and Hansa. Led by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Dutch National Police and supported by Europol, it was described as “one of the most sophisticated takedown operations ever seen in the fight against criminal activities online”.
According to Europol, the operation’s success also sowed anxiety and distrust among vendors and buyers, ultimately leading to the exits of some traders from the internet’s dark recesses and to a decrease in the volume of transactions on similar marketplaces.
The operation against AlphaBay and Hansa was preceded by other crackdowns on similar hives of villainy. In 2013, US authorities shut down dark web-based marketplace Silk Road, while Silk Road 2.0 met a similar fate a little over a year later.