Federal officials around the world executed an 18-month long operation to dismantle the longstanding cybercrime forum, Darkode, a place known for spreading malware, sharing credit card information, selling hacking tools and more.
Officials campaign, dubbed Operation Shrouded Horizon, resulted in the raid of 27 homes, the arrest of 28 hackers all across 18 separate countries, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre and the U.K.s National Crime Agency (NCA), a trio of agencies involved in the worldwide take down.
Agencies scattered throughout 20 nations, including Eastern European countries such as Bosnia/Herzegovina, Romania, Serbia, Latvia, alongside factions from Sweden, the U.K., Cyprus, Australia, Nigeria and Denmark helped coordinate and carry out the 18-month action on Tuesday.
Following Wednesday, website visitors were greeted with a large banner touting that the domain had been seized by government agencies and that the servers were now in the hands of police investigators.
A member close the investigation, Johan Anders Gudmunds, who resides in Sweden says he believes Darkode’s forum administrator was indicted on conspiracy, fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, according to the official press release from the Department of Justice.
Hackers arrested in the United States spanned from Wisconsin, Florida, Louisiana and abroad. Hackers located outside the U.S. will likely face additional charges, however, investigators must first comb through the data and find evidence indicting hackers.
“Despite the exclusive nature of Darkode and the technical skills of its users, this action shows once again that we can identify and pursue those we believe are seeking to offend through an apparently secure online environment, far removed from their victims,” said Steven Laval, a senior investigating officer for the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit.
Darkode was a closed, members-only community that averaged out around 300 members. Between the tight-nit hackers they would sell banking credentials, zero-day exploits, coordinate cyberattacks against companies and advertise botnet and DDoS-for-hire services, right on the black market forum.
One of the several investigators briefed on the takedown, U.S. Attorney David Hickton, called Darkode forum “one of the gravest threats to the integrity of data on computers in the United States and around the world,” according to a Reuters report.
Hickton went even further, calling it a “cyber hornet’s nest of criminal hackers,” and went on to describe some of the forums frequent members, including one hacker who was selling Android malware for $65k while another was selling a malware spreader that targeted victims via Facebook.
“The FBI has effectively smashed the hornets’ nest,” Hickton said, “and we are in the process of rounding up and charging the hornets.”