U.S. Announces Shut Down of Major Internet Hacking Forum, Darkode

FBI Supervisory Special Agent J. Keith Mularski, who heads the cybercrime squad at the agency’s Pittsburgh field office, displays an image from the Darkode Web site. (PHOTO CREDIT: Gene J. Puskar/AP)
FBI Supervisory Special Agent J. Keith Mularski, who heads the cybercrime squad at the agency’s Pittsburgh field office, displays an image from the Darkode Web site. (PHOTO CREDIT: Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced the largest international takedown of an online criminal hackers’ forum, an illicit Web site for the trafficking of tools and talent.

Over a 24-hour period, officials said, authorities in the United States and 19 other countries jointly shut down Darkode, the world’s most sophisticated English-language Internet forum for criminal hackers.

During Operation Shrouded Horizon, the FBI infiltrated Darkode at high levels and began gathering evidence and intelligence on members, officials said.

“Through this operation, we have dismantled a cyber hornets’ nest of criminal hackers which was believed by many, including the hackers themselves, to be impenetrable,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton of the Western District of Pennsylvania, whose office handled the joint investigation with the FBI and the department’s criminal division.

Darkode is a tightly controlled, invitation-only digital bazaar in which a prospective member can gain admission only after posting what amounts to a professional résumé of illegal hacking capabilities, Hickton said. It launched in 2008 and has 250 to 300 members, officials said.

The forum offered the means, including exploit kits, botnets, ransomware programs and tools for mass spamming, to attack and commandeer computers. It also offered “zero day” attack tools, which exploit flaws in software that the software makers did not know existed. Hackers describe it as “the best malware marketplace on the Web,” Hickton said. It also sold stolen data — Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, log-in information and passwords.

Darkode members have “compromised millions upon millions of computers, servers, cellphones, bank accounts and social media accounts,” he said, adding that losses to victims in terms of dollars and privacy “have been extreme.” Citing the ongoing investigation, Hickton could not provide a dollar amount.

Law enforcement authorities in the 20 countries arrested, charged or searched 70 Darkode members and associates. The FBI seized Darkode’s domains and servers. In the United States, charges have been filed against 12 people; in all, 28 have been arrested worldwide.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima

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