U.S. law enforcement officials announced Wednesday that they had shut down the computer hacking forum Darkode, describing it as a “hornets’ nest” of cybercriminals.
As part of a multi-agency investigation of Darkode, which has operated as a marketplace to purchase and trade hacking tools since at least 2008, 12 people including the forum’s alleged administrator have been indicted in the U.S. on computer fraud and other charges. Seventy alleged Darkode members and associates have been arrested around the world.
“Of the roughly 800 criminal Internet forums worldwide, Darkode represented one of the gravest threats to the integrity of data on computers in the United States and around the world and was the most sophisticated English-speaking forum for criminal computer hackers in the world,” David J. Hickton, the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh, said in a news release.
“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,” he added.
Darkode was password-protected and had between 250 and 300 members. According to the FBI, a potential candidate for membership had to be sponsored by an existing member and sent a formal invitation to join.
“Once in the forum, members … used it to exchange ideas, knowledge, and advice on any number of cyber-related fraud schemes and other illegal activities,” the FBI said. “It was almost like a think tank for cyber criminals.”
The crackdown, dubbed Operation Shrouded Horizon, was initiated two years ago by the FBI’s Pittsburgh office and involved undercover infiltration of Darkode. The alleged administrator of the site was identified as Johan Anders Gudmunds, a 27-year-old Swede who allegedly who created a large botnet of hacked computers that stole private information “on approximately 200,000,000 occasions.”
“This operation is a great example of what international law enforcement can accomplish when we work closely together to neutralize a global cybercrime marketplace,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said.