The US Department of Justice on Wednesday night announced the takedown of “Darkode,” what it says is one of the most dangerous cybercrime forums in world.
Here’s what you need know about the massive operation.
The forum served as a meeting place for some of the most dangerous hackers in the world.
Darkode was a secretive, password protected society of elite hackers.
According to Europol, Darkode had 250 to 300 active members before it was shut down. It housed some of the most infamous hackers in the world, including members of the “Lizard Squad” group responsible for the 2014 Christmas attacks on the Sony PlayStation Network and Xbox Live gaming services.
It had a strict membership policy.
Darkode had a strict vetting process for new members. The DoJ said the process required an existing member to invite a prospect to the forum.
After being invited, the DoJ said the “candidate” would then have to demonstrate their skills and persuade the remaining members they could be useful.
It offered access to exclusive knowledge and attack tools.
Once in, Darkode would grant its members access to an underground network where they could buy, sell, or trade attack tools and stolen goods. It also had discussion forums where members could share information and ideas about hacking.
The UK National Crime Agency (NCA) says Darkode traded in everything from malware to undiscovered software vulnerabilities and access to compromised servers.
The takedown operation was led by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation but involved many other law enforcement agencies.
The 18-month operation, codenamed Operation Shrouded Horizon, was led by the FBI and saw agents secretly infiltrate the hacker forum using an unknown method.
While the FBI led the takedown, it involved law enforcement from 20 countries including Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Latvia, Macedonia, Nigeria, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Only a fraction of its members were arrested.
The final stage of the operation led to 28 arrests, 37 house searches, and according to Europol “numerous seizures of computers and other equipment.” This brings the global total number of people arrested for suspected offences linked to Darkode to 70.
US law enforcement believes there are at least 800 other forums like Darkode.
Underground hacking forums are an ongoing problem that law enforcement has been playing a global game of whack-a-mole with over the last three years.
While the law enforcement has successfully taken down some of the biggest, and most public, cyber black markets, whenever they shut one down another soon appears — as was the case in 2013 when law enforcement shut down the infamous Silk Road underground digital market.
According to Krebs on Security, this is already happening with Darkode and the remaining ex-members have already begun using more secure marketplaces and forums hosted on the deep and dark web — areas of the web that do not index on the public internet and/or cannot be accessed through regular web browsers.