8th October 2013

Four men arrested on drugs offences are this week being investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) over their role in a multi-million pound online illegal marketplace.

The suspects - one in his early 50s from Devon and the others in their early 20s from Manchester - were held by NCA officers hours after the FBI arrested the suspected creator of the Silk Road.

The news comes as the NCA, which went live yesterday (Monday), warned that other UK suspects were set to be arrested in the coming weeks.

The Silk Road, which has now been closed, was one of the world's largest websites selling illegal drugs, and branded itself an "anonymous marketplace" because users accessed the site through the 'deep web'.

However, Keith Bristow, the NCA's Director General, warned this week that users who think they can hide their identity on the internet to carry out their criminality should think again. He said:

"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.

"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.

"These so called hidden or anonymous online environments are a key priority for the National Crime Agency. Using the expertise of over 4,000 officers and the latest technology, we will arrest suspects and disrupt and prevent their illegal activity to protect the public.

"These latest arrests are just the start; there are many more to come."

The UK arrests came after NCA officers, led by a team at the agency's Exeter branch and working closely with American law enforcement, identified several suspects who they believed were "significant users" of the Silk Road. It is also hoped this investigation will increase the knowledge of the criminal use of the marketplace or the wider 'deep web' - which allows users access to areas of the internet not covered by standard search engines.

Head of the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) Andy Archibald said:

"This is only the start of a wider campaign for the NCA to tackle the 'dark' or 'deep' web and the criminals exploiting it.
"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.

"Stopping this element of serious and organised crime will go a long way to protecting the public."

As part of the closure of the Silk Road, millions of pounds worth of bitcoins - a virtual currency used to buy online goods - were also seized.

As part of its work to combat the threats from cyber space, the NCA will lead a multi-agency team, whose role will be to investigate and combat the scale and nature of the threat to the UK from virtual currencies. The work of that group is now being agreed with partners from around the world.