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UK authorities have arrested four men believed to have been involved in the infamous Silk Road marketplace, which was shut down last week after an arrest by the FBI.
The UK’s newly established National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed it had arrested four men – one in his 50s from Devon, and three from Manchester in their 20s – shortly after the FBI arrest last week. They had originally been picked up over drug offences.
The Silk Road was a deep web marketplace only accessible through the Tor network, known to facilitate the trade of drugs and offer tutorials on a variety of illegal activities, such as how to make explosives and hack bank machines.
Keith Bristow, the NCA's director general, said that arrests of those alleged to be behind the forum should think again if they believe they can operate online anonymously.
"These arrests send a clear message to criminals: the hidden internet isn't hidden and your anonymous activity isn't anonymous. We know where you are, what you are doing and we will catch you,” he said.
"It is impossible for criminals to completely erase their digital footprint. No matter how technology-savvy the offender, they will always make mistakes and this brings law enforcement closer to them.”
The arrests came about after NCA officers at an agency branch in Exeter worked with US law enforcement staff to identify suspects regarded as “significant users” of the Silk Road. Bristow also confirmed that the NCA would make more arrests in the coming weeks.
Head of the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) Andy Archibald added that the arrests were just the start of the organisation’s attempts to tackle those operating on the deep web.
"These criminal areas of the internet aren't just selling drugs; it's where fraud takes place, where the trafficking of people and goods is discussed, where child abuse images are exchanged and firearms are traded,” he said. "Stopping this element of serious and organised crime will go a long way to protecting the public."
The arrests will be seen as a coup for the newly formed NCA, and they come amid ongoing crackdowns against cyber criminals. Recently the Metropolitan Police claimed its efforts to stop online theft and scams have saved businesses and citizens over £1bn.