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Malware and Hacking Forum Darkode Dismantled, Dozens Arrested

A malware and hacking forum called Darkode, which has served as a marketplace to purchase and trade hacking tools since at least 2008, has been seized by authorities, and dozens have been arrested.

The FBI announced arrests in 20 countries and indictments for 70 people, including 12 in the U.S., spanning from Wisconsin to Louisiana.

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“Hackers and those who profit from stolen information use underground Internet forums to evade law enforcement and target innocent people around the world,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department's Criminal Division said in a press release. “This operation is a great example of what international law enforcement can accomplish when we work closely together to neutralize a global cybercrime marketplace.”

The investigation, which was referred to as Operation Shrouded Horizon, was led by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh. It began with a lead generated in Pittsburgh about 18 months ago.

Investigators explained that the forum's existence was widely known, but the site was challenging to penetrate, since it was password-protected and required referrals in order to join.

"Before becoming a member of Darkode, prospective members were allegedly vetted through a process in which an existing member invited a prospective member to the forum for the purpose of presenting the skills or products that he or she could bring to the group," the press release explained.

Forum members included an individual who put up software, for a price of $65,000, that can hack and take control over cellphones. Another member was offering a way to steal and sell lists of friends on Facebook. There was also a member selling malware to allow hackers to create botnets, and another individual attempting to transfer credit card numbers to others on the site.

“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,” U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton of the Western District of Pennsylvania, said in the press release.

According to federal officials, the investigation into Darkode is still in progress. However, the dismantling of the site was a major milestone, marking the largest coordinated international law enforcement effort targeting an online cyber criminal forum.

“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,” Hickton added.

More information about those facing charges as a result of the Darkode takeover is detailed in the FBI's press release.

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