Italy: Police Shut Down Digital Black Market 'Babylon'
Police claim their Operation Babylon, named after the forum itself, is the second of its kind in the world after US authorities shut down Silk Road, an infamous online black market, in 2013.
Authorities say the website worked similarly to Silk Road, operating via Tor – a browser that gives internet users anonymity as they search, using encryption and a network of nodes through which digital information is passed randomly.
Clients and sellers traded in Bitcoins, a digital currency that can be used without leaving the normal traces associated with bank transactions.
Last Wednesday, authorities report that they raided the house of the suspected forum administrator in Naples, seizing 14,000 Bitcoin wallets (the virtual accounts of Bitcoin users). Investigators also found thousands of disturbing images showing underage victims being sexually abused.
During a press conference in Rome on Friday, authorities said they launched the operation two years ago after looking into a digital forum that organized sex tourism for paedophiles.
As they dug deeper, they found the Babylon marketplace, which hosted twelve hidden services including the trade of child pornography, weapons, drugs, passport and ID documents and counterfeit credit cards.
Police said 14,000 service users had made about 170,000 transactions, all of which earned the administrator a cut.
But it is just the beginning, according to Michele Prestipino, who coordinated the operation.
Police are now working with Europol and the FBI to identify traders from Babylon, including at least 210 drug dealers.