The FBI working in conjunction with authorities in multiple nations has arrested several individuals in connection with their involvement in Deep Dot Web, a website that allegedly profiteered by taking commissions on referral links to dark web markets, TechCrunch reported on Tuesday. It has also seized domains affiliated with the site and replaced them with takedown notices.
The dark web consists of networks that are not accessible without using specific software, configurations, or other tools—such as the Tor project. Most of it is abandoned or garbage, but it’s also played host to sprawling black markets that have allegedly rolled in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Authorities, however, have greatly thinned the ranks of such web destinations, taking down marketplaces like AlphaBay and Silk Road over the course of the past decade. This case, however, seems to go one step further, as Deep Dot Web did not directly process black market auctions but instead acted as a sort of dark web index and news site.
According to the Times of Israel, arrests of suspects went down in “France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Israel,” with the suspects in Israel reported as “a 35-year-old resident of Tel Aviv and a 34-year-old resident of Ashdod.”
While merely publishing links to black market sites is not in and of itself illegal—something that seems like it will be very likely to play a role in the suspects’ criminal defence — the takedown notice currently on the website cites U.S. federal statutes on money laundering, as well as civil and criminal forfeiture.
The Times of Israel reported that authorities accuse Deep Dot Web administrators of making “millions of dollars in commission through their referrals,” which Israeli police tweeted was a sort of Bitcoin-based kickback scheme.
בעלי האתר גרפו מיליוני דולרים באמצעות שיטת "שיווק שותפים", ע"י כך שהרוויחו על כל מכירה שבוצעה דרכם. התשלום בעבור העסקאות התבצע באמצעות מטבע ביטקוין. שני החשודים שנעצרו בישראל יובאו היום לדיון בהארכת מעצרם
— משטרת ישראל (@IL_police) May 7, 2019
Efforts to reach Deep Dot Web over encrypted chat were unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not have comment, while the FBI declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Israeli consulate in New York did not respond to a request for comment.
News of Deep Dot Web’s takedown follows news last week that authorities in the U.S. and Europe had busted dark web black market hub Wall Street Market and arrested numerous individuals accused of operating it, with FBI Special Agent Leroy Shelton writing in court documents that it was “one of the largest and most voluminous darknet marketplaces of all time.”
Authorities alleged Wall Street Market site not only trafficked in drugs, weapons, and stolen data, but that its operators prepared an exit scam in which they stole approximately $16 million from user accounts the month before the bust.