The operator of a dark web portal has pled guilty to charges of money laundering. In exchange for offering gateways into dark web marketplaces and links to vendors selling illegal goods, Tal Prihar received more than $8.4 million in kickbacks. Payments were in cryptocurrency. The money moved from a Bitcoin wallet to shell company bitcoin and beyond.
The past few years have brought about a series of successful dark web stings. However, in 2019, law enforcement described the indictment of Prihar and a co-conspirator as “the single most significant enforcement disruption of the Darknet to date”.
Doorway to the Darknet
The duo’s website, DeepDotWeb, facilitated interactions in shadowy marketplaces for more than six years. The website itself has been seized by authorities. According to police, Tal Prihar was arrested at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in May of 2019. Prihar’s DeepDotWeb money laundering and other serious allegations against him could result in a 20 year prison sentence.
Prihar’s co-conspirator, Michael Phan, was arrested during the same May 2019 timeframe. A case of his is being tried in Israel. He is currently in US custody.
“Prihar profited as a byproduct from other people’s dangerous transactions and…[the] guilty plea sends a message to other cyber actors across the globe who think the dark web is a safe haven,” says Special Agent Carlton Peeples, of the FBI.
As many as 15,000 individuals leveraged DeepDotWeb for nefarious purposes. Police have determined that referral fees came from at least as many people.
The DeepDotWeb enabled low-level hackers to sell stolen financial information. It also enabled big-time criminals to make weapons sales, to traffic in drugs, and more. Like most dark web sites, DeepDotWeb did not appear in standard search results on Google, Bing, Yahoo or other search engines.
“For providing these links, Prihar and Phan received kickback payments from the marketplaces in the form of virtual currency, including approximately 8,155 bitcoins...” stated the US Department of Justice. Since his arrest, Prihar has agreed to forfeit the entire sum of his profits.
The authorities’ investigations
Tracking down and taking down Prihar and Phan’s site required collaboration across law enforcement agencies. Europol joined forces with groups in the US, UK, Brazil, Israel and the Netherlands to resolve this case.
Other recent dark web takedowns
We rang in January of 2021 with the takedown of DarkMarket, the world’s largest online black market. In September of 2020, police seized Wall Street Market, an online bazaar for illicit products. Other sites recently taken offline include the Silk Road and AlphaBay.
“These people don’t just operate on one market, they cover the full spectrum of the dark web,” says one Europol press officer, Claire Georges.
Will more arrests ensue?
“We collated the information and then we sent out what we call intelligence packages to all the concerned countries. Basically it’s information or documents where we say, look, we know this person in your country has done this, you may want to open an investigation,” states Georges.
Authorities are onto criminals. No matter how criminals attempt to hide, modern technologies enable investigators to uncover their tracks.
For more on DeepDotWeb or the dark web, visit InfoSecurity Magazine.