The FBI announced today that it has shut down an online hacking forum called Darkode, which it described as “almost like a think tank for cyber criminals.” Indictments were issued against 12 alleged Darkode members in the U.S. and 58 others living abroad.
Investigators say that Darkode was used as a marketplace for malware, credit card information, and other data, but also as a discussion forum where members could give advice and workshop ideas. Its members, according to the FBI, were prolific — a Swedish man who served as the site’s administrator is accused of using his own botnet to steal data on a whopping 200 million occasions.
Although Darkode required new members to go through a vetting process, the FBI claims it was able to infiltrate the group “at the highest levels” in order to identify and arrest its members. The Bureau was aided in its investigation, dubbed Operation Shrouded Horizon, by law enforcement organizations in 19 other countries.
“The FBI has effectively smashed the hornets’ nest, and we are in the process of rounding up and charging the hornets,” U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton said at a press conference announcing the indictments.
Although the FBI describes Darkode as an elite and mafia-like organization with members scattered across the globe, the Bureau’s public statements about the group don’t hint at any particular hacking schemes that Darkode was responsible for carrying out. The Bureau says it focused its investigation on members who were most directly responsible for “supporting the most egregious and complex cyber criminal schemes targeting victims and financial systems around the world, including in the United States,” but does not attribute any specific schemes to the group. The investigation is still ongoing.