NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — On Wednesday, police around the world coordinated a major bust, closing down a massive, highly-guarded black market for hackers.
Darkode, the shuttered black market, was a website where hackers would trade their dangerous wares.
Criminals would swap huge batches of stolen data. Identity thieves would purchase databases of Social Security numbers and credit cards. Cyberweapons dealers would sell malware that could break into government and corporate computer networks — or fry hardware and cause millions of dollars in damage.
Hackers who snuck into millions of computers — and turned them into a slave network under their control — would sell temporary access to their powerful computing power of their “botnets.” These are regularly used to attack websites, overloading them and knocking them offline.
David J. Hickton, a federal prosecutor in Pennsylvania who helped lead the attack, called Darkode “one of the gravest threats to the integrity of data on computers in the United States and around the world.”
The U.S. Justice Department estimate there are nearly 800 criminal Internet forums worldwide. Hickton described Darkode as “the most sophisticated English-speaking forum for criminal computer hackers in the world.”
As part of “Operation Shrouded Horizon,” FBI agents went undercover, infiltrating Darkode with the help of police in Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Nigeria and several other countries. Federal officials called the operation “the largest coordinated international law enforcement effort ever directed at an online cyber-criminal forum.”
And now the Justice Department is going after individual hackers too.
On Wednesday, it named eight people suspected of taking part in the forum — and most of them live in the United States.
What makes this such a huge takedown? It was wickedly difficult to infiltrate this tight knit hacker circle.
The most dangerous and legitimate black market hacker forums have tightly closed doors. It’s an exclusive club protected by passwords. A strict vetting process keeps out cops and researchers. You have to provide proof of actual hacks to gain credibility — and the more credibility you have, the closer you can access the full marketplace.
But the FBI managed to sneak in anyway.