The Darknet: Is the Government Destroying ‘the Wild West of the Internet?’

On July 15th in Pittsburgh, David J. Hickton, a gray-haired U.S. attorney in a crisp dark suit, stepped out before an American flag to announce the feds’ latest victory against online crime. “We have dismantled a cyber-hornet’s nest of criminal hackers, which was believed by many to be impenetrable,” he said. “We are in the process of rounding up and charging the hornets.” By the next morning, more than 70 people across the world had been charged, arrested or searched in what the Department of Justice called “the largest coordinated international law-enforcement effort ever directed at an online cybercriminal forum.”

After an 18-month international investigation led by the FBI, known as Operation Shrouded Horizon, hackers on a site called Darkode were accused of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiring to commit computer fraud. The trail of crimes was massive, with one member compromising companies including Microsoft and Sony and another swiping data from more than 20 million victims. Hickton said Darkode posed “one of the gravest threats to the integrity of data on computers in the United States and around the world.” Its computers were considered “bulletproof” from the law by running on offshore servers — including one traced to Seychelles, the remote island nation in the Indian Ocean. “Cybercriminals should not have a safe haven to shop for the tools of their trade,” said FBI Deputy Director Mark F. Giuliano, “and Operation

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