U.S. law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday the indictment of two Israeli operators of a website that referred hundreds of thousands of users to underground internet marketplaces to purchase drugs, weapons and other illegal products.
Tal Prihar, 37, an Israeli citizen living in Brazil, and Michael Phan, 34, who lives in Israel, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Western Pennsylvania with money laundering in connection with operating DeepDotWeb, a website that served as a gateway to the Darkweb, the internet’s dark underbelly where users can purchase and exchange illegal products.
Prihar was arrested by French authorities in Paris Monday and faces likely extradition to the U.S. Phan was arrested on Monday in Israel and faces charges there. Prosecutors declined to say whether they’ll seek Phan’s extradition to the U.S.
The two Israeli nationals operated DeepDotWeb from 2013 to late last month when it was taken down by the FBI, collecting more than $15 million in commissions for directing users to various marketplaces such as the now defunct AlphaBay.
The users, in turn, purchases hundreds of millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs, firearms, malicious software, hacking tools, and stolen financial information and credit cards, according to prosecutors.
About 24 percent of all orders on AlphaBay, which was one of the largest Darkweb marketplaces before it was seized by the FBI in 2017, were associated with an account created through a referral link provided by DeepDotWeb. Scott W. Brady, the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, said DeepDotWeb’s takedown represents a major blow to the Darknet economy.
“This is the single most significant law enforcement disruption of the Darknet to date,” Brady said at a press conference in Pittsburgh. “While there have been successful prosecutions of various Darknet marketplaces, this prosecution is the first to attack the infrastructure supporting the Darknet itself.”
Darknet marketplaces operate on Tor, a computer network that facilitates anonymous communication and transactions over the internet. Tor marketplaces can’t be found via a Google search. To access a marketplace, a user needs the site’s exact .onion url, a top level domain suffix designating an anonymous service reachable via the Tor network.
To address this problem, DeepDotWeb provided pages of hyperlinks to various marketplaces such as AlphaBay Market and Hansa Market, allowing users to navigate the marketplaces and collecting a commission each time a user made a purchase. (VOA)