On Friday, April 28, the Central Operational Service and Lecco Police conducted a series of arrests as part of an international drug investigation. Lecco News reported the event live as law enforcement in Lecco held a press conference that explained the unfolding events. In the Police Headquarters Meeting Room, the Lecco chief prosecutor, Antonio Chapman, told reporters that the “operation is a window into the unexplored world and hidden web.” We later learned that the 50 raids connected to the takedown of the Italian Darknet Community.
The Italian Darknet Community functions as one of Italy’s main darknet marketplaces. In reality, the Italian Darknet Community (IDC) took the form of a forum instead of a traditional marketplace. But vendors sold on the site too; similar to many other hidden forums, IDC allowed the sale and discussion of virtually everything, save for the usual suspects—child pornography, pedophilia in general, and terrorism.
In 2016, Italian law enforcement started looking into IDC. One forum user and vendor, Kriminale, fell into FBI focus during the original Silk Road’s downfall. US law enforcement never caught him and appeared to cease the investigation into him. He moved from marketplace to marketplace—often with the downfall of a market. According to Italian law enforcement, he was “one of the largest Italian darknet vendors and one of the reference points for the online trafficking of drugs in Italy.”
That vendor, “Kriminale,” was not arrested alone. Nor was he the sole focus of the investigation. Italian police forces raided 50 properties in 25 provinces. So far, the prosecutor announced, law enforcement collected evidence on ten major suspects. Upon completion of those raids, though, the force only captured five suspects. Only three of the five were Italian, law enforcement pointed out. The investigation is far from complete and over the course of 15 months, officers moved in on dozens of “low-level” vendors.
“As a small police station, we are very proud,” said Marco Cadeddu, an Italian National Police department head. Marco Cadeddu and investigators in Forlì caught a vendor as well: an Italian who sold under the name Skytec. Officers called him unique as he concealed the drugs in Pepsi bottles, hard drive enclosures, and other small objects. He sold MDMA, amphetamine, cocaine, LSD, cannabis, and heroin—all in mostly small quantities, Cadeddu said.
The Lecco chief prosecutor, Antonio Chiappani, explained that throughout the investigation, law enforcement learned about the “hidden world.” He said that he was particularly surprised by the more threatening elements of a “parallel internet.” With that phrase came the talk of terrorism and weaponry on the dark web. Those areas of the hidden network, he said, should be the “first step of an investigation.” He added that the same principles ought to apply to “other police forces as well.”
Investigators came across more than simply drugs; they found a significant number of stolen credit card listings; weapon sales that they did not discuss; identity theft material; and lastly, a surprising number of hacking tools and software. Ransomware specifically.
Chiappani explained that since working independently was almost essential for darknet crime, no connection to criminal conspiracy existed. However, they plan to continue the investigation until completion and possibly connect the dots. Analysts are currently examining seized electronics and they “hope to make a quantum leap into other fields (weapons, selling fake documents – while keeping an eye on terrorism and human trafficking. Some of the other large vendors are next, the prosecutor said.