Operation Onymous

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Europol HQ in The Hague

Operation Onymous was an international law enforcement operation targeting darknet markets and other hidden services operating on the Tor network.


Operation Onymous was formed as a joint law enforcement operation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the European Union Intelligence Agency Europol.[1] The international effort also included the United States Department of Homeland Security,[2] Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Eurojust.[3] The operation was part of the international strategies that address the problems of malware, botnet schemes, and illicit markets or darknets.[2] It was also linked with the war on drugs effort with the participation of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).[4]



On 5 and 6 November 2014, a number of websites, initially claimed to be over 400, were shut down including drug markets such as Silk Road 2.0, Cloud 9 and Hydra.[5][6] Other sites targeted included money laundering sites and "contraband sites". The operation involved the police forces of 17 countries.[7] In total there were 17 arrests.[5] A 26-year-old software developer was arrested in San Francisco and accused of running Silk Road 2.0 under the pseudonym 'Defcon'.[8] Defcon was "one of the primary targets".[5] Within hours of the seizure a third incarnation of the site appeared, 'Silk Road 3.0'; Silk Road had previously been seized in October 2013, and then resurrected, weeks later, as 'Silk Road 2.0'.[9]

$1 million in Bitcoin was seized, along with 180,000 in cash, gold, silver and drugs.[10] Of the "illicit services" that were initially claimed to have been shut down,[7] few were online marketplaces like Silk Road. A complaint filed on 7 November 2014 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, "seeking the forfeiture of any and all assets of the following dark market websites operating on the Tor network", referred to just 27 sites, fourteen of which were claimed to be drug markets; the others allegedly sold counterfeit currency, forged identity documents or stolen credit cards.[11]

US and European agencies sought to publicise the claimed success of their six-month-long operation, which "went flawlessly".[12] The UK National Crime Agency sent out a tweet mocking Tor users.[13] The official Europol press release quoted a US Homeland Security Investigations official, who stated: "Our efforts have disrupted a website that allows illicit black-market activities to evolve and expand, and provides a safe haven for illegal vices, such as weapons distribution, drug trafficking and murder-for-hire."[10][12]

Other leading drug markets in the Dark Web were unaffected, such as Agora, Evolution and Andromeda. Whereas Silk Road did not in fact distribute weapons, or offer contract killings, Evolution did allow trade of weapons as well as drugs.[14] Prior to the closure of Silk Road 2.0, Agora already carried more listings than Silk Road, and Evolution was also expected to overtake it.[5][15] Agora and Evolution are more professional operations than Silk Road, with more advanced security; the arrest of the alleged Silk Road manager is thought to have been largely due to a series of careless mistakes.[13][14][16]

The figure of 414 dark net sites, which was widely reported internationally, and appeared in many news headlines,[17][18][19] was later adjusted without explanation to "upward of 50" sites.[13][20][21] The true figure is thought to be nearer to 27 sites, to which all 414 .onion addresses direct.[16][20][22][23] Australian journalist Nik Cubrilovic claimed to have discovered 276 seized sites, based on a crawl of all onion sites, of which 153 were scam, clone or phishing sites.[24]

Tor 0-day exploit[edit]

The number of sites initially claimed to have been infiltrated led to the speculation that a zero-day vulnerability in the Tor network had been exploited. This possibility was downplayed by Andrew Lewman, a representative of the not-for-profit Tor project, suggesting that execution of traditional police work such as tracing Bitcoins[25] was more likely.[17][13][26] Lewman suggested that such claims were "overblown" and that the authorities wanted to simply give the impression they had "cracked" Tor to deter others from using it for criminal purposes.[25] A representative of Europol was secretive about the method used, saying: "This is something we want to keep for ourselves. The way we do this, we can’t share with the whole world, because we want to do it again and again and again."[5]

It has been speculated that hidden services could have been deanonymized if law enforcement replicated the research by CERT at Carnegie Mellon University up until the July 30th patch that mitigated the issue.[27] If sufficient relay nodes were DDOSed which would force traffic to route over the attacking nodes, an attacker could perform traffic confirmation attacks aided by a Sybil attack. Logs released by the administrator of Doxbin partially supported this theory.[28]

Court documents released in November 2015[29] generated serious research ethics concerns in the Tor and security research communities[30][31] about the warrantless exploit[32] (which presumably had been active in 2014 from February to 4 July).[33] The Tor Project patched the vulnerability and the FBI denied having paid Carnegie Mellon $1 million to exploit it.[34] Carnegie Mellon also denied receiving money.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blowers, Misty (2015). Evolution of Cyber Technologies and Operations to 2035. Dordrecht: Springer. p. 133. ISBN 9783319235844.
  2. ^ a b Chaudhry, Peggy E. (2017). Handbook of Research on Counterfeiting and Illicit Trade. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 182, 375. ISBN 9781785366444.
  3. ^ Kremling, Janine; Parker, Amanda M. Sharp (5 September 2017). Cyberspace, Cybersecurity, and Cybercrime. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9781506392288.
  4. ^ Adorjan, Michael; Ricciardelli, Rose (10 June 2016). Engaging with Ethics in International Criminological Research. Routledge. ISBN 9781317382874.
  5. ^ a b c d e Greenberg, Andy (7 November 2014). "Global Web Crackdown Arrests 17, Seizes Hundreds Of Dark Net Domains". Wired.
  6. ^ Greenberg, Andy (6 November 2014). "Not Just Silk Road 2: Feds Seize Two Other Drug Markets and Counting". Wired.
  7. ^ a b Tom Fox-Brewster (7 November 2014). "Silk Road 2.0 targeted in 'Operation Onymous' dark-web takedown". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  8. ^ Robert McMillan (10 November 2014). "Alleged Silk Road 2 Mastermind Worked for Ex-Googler's Secret Startup". Wired. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  9. ^ James Cook (7 November 2014). "There's Already A Silk Road 3.0". UK Business Insider. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Global Action Against Dark Markets On Tor Network". Europol. 7 November 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  11. ^ Kate Vinton (7 November 2014). "So Far Feds Have Only Confirmed Seizing 27 "Dark Market" Sites In Operation Onymous". Forbes. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  12. ^ a b James Cook (7 November 2014). "More Details Emerge Of How Police Shut Down Over 400 Deep Web Marketplaces As Part Of 'Operation Onymous'". UK Business Insider. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d Patrick Howell O'Neill (7 November 2014). "The truth behind Tor's confidence crisis". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  14. ^ a b Andy Greenberg (18 September 2014). "The Dark Web Gets Darker With Rise of the 'Evolution' Drug Market". Wired. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  15. ^ Christopher Ingraham (6 November 2014). "The FBI promises a perpetual, futile drug war as it shuts down Silk Road 2.0". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  16. ^ a b Alex Hern (11 November 2014). "Operation Onymous may have exposed flaws in Tor, developers reveal". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  17. ^ a b Wakefield, Jane (7 November 2014). "Huge raid to shut down 400-plus dark net sites". BBC. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  18. ^ Alistair Charlton (7 November 2014). "Operation Onymous: Six Britons Arrested as Police Bust 400 Drug Dealing Dark Websites". International Business Times. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  19. ^ Martyn Williams (7 November 2014). "Biggest ever Tor raid hits 410 underground sites; 17 arrested". PC World. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  20. ^ a b Patrick Howell O'Neill (7 November 2014). "Just how many Dark Net sites did cops really shut down?". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  21. ^ Benjamin Weiser and Doreen Carvajal (7 November 2014). "International Raids Target Sites Selling Contraband on the 'Dark Web'". New York Times. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  22. ^ Dave Lee (10 November 2014). "Dark net experts trade theories on 'de-cloaking' after raids". BBC. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  23. ^ phobos (9 November 2014). "Thoughts and Concerns about Operation Onymous". Tor blogs. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  24. ^ Nik Cubrilovic (17 November 2014). "Large Number of Tor Hidden Sites Seized by the FBI in Operation Onymous were Clone or Scam Sites". Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  25. ^ a b Lee, Dave (10 November 2014). "Dark net raids were 'overblown' by police, says Tor Project". Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  26. ^ Shawn Knight (7 November 2014). "Operation Onymous seizes hundreds of darknet sites, 17 arrested globally". Techspot. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  27. ^ Gingold, Naomi (8 December 2014). "Did the FBI Break Tor?". Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  28. ^ "Did Feds Use DDoS Attacks to Deanonymize Darknet Sites Seized in Operation Onymous?". 11 November 2014. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  29. ^ Cox, Joseph (11 November 2015). "Court Docs Show a University Helped FBI Bust Silk Road 2, Child Porn Suspects". Motherboard.
  30. ^ Green, Matthew (12 November 2015). "Why the attack on Tor matters". Ars Technica.
  31. ^ "Did the FBI Pay a University to Attack Tor Users?".
  32. ^ "Tor Project claims FBI paid university researchers $1m to unmask Tor users". 12 November 2015.
  33. ^ Kate Knibbs. "Attack on Tor Has Likely Stripped Users of Anonymity". Gizmodo. Gawker Media.
  34. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (13 November 2015). "FBI: "The allegation that we paid CMU $1M to hack into Tor is inaccurate"". Ars Technica.
  35. ^ "Carnegie Mellon denies FBI payment for Tor-cracking technique". 20 November 2015.

External links[edit]