Threat Management, Vulnerability Management

DarkMarket mastermind pleads guilty

A Sri Lankan man living in London admitted this week to being the mastermind behind the online hacker forum DarkMarket, which has been called one of the most nefarious criminal websites in the world.

Renukanth Subramaniam, 33, pleaded guilty Wednesday in London to conspiracy to defraud, according to a court spokeswoman. Subramaniam, who used the alias "JiLsi," admitted that he set up DarkMarket, a site that fostered cybercriminal collaboration and resulted in tens of millions of dollars of losses, according to a news release issued Thursday by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) in London.

“The key to investigations of this sort is finding the evidence to connect the online persona with a living breathing person,” said Sharon Lemon, deputy director of SOCA. “Subramaniam went to great trouble to hide his activity. He seems to have thought that carrying data around on memory sticks and using internet cafés would somehow protect him from scrutiny. He was wrong.”

Another man admitted this week to helping run the forum. John McHugh, 66, of England also pleaded guilty in London to conspiracy to defraud. McHugh, who used the alias "devilman," recruited new members for DarkMarket.

Both men are scheduled to be sentenced by March 12, the court spokeswoman said. McHough is expected to receive a lesser sentence than Subramaniam, a spokesperson for SOCA told on Friday. The maximum sentence for conspiracy to defraud is 10 years in prison.

The cases resulted from an international investigation involving the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and SOCA, and has been heralded as one of the biggest anti-cybercrime success stories to date, resulting in more than 60 arrests worldwide.

For two years, as part of a sting operation, FBI Agent Keith Mularski, using the handle "Master Splyntr," played the role of a spammer and infiltrated DarkMarket. Mularski told that DarkMarket was used as a “supermart of the underground.”

In order to get into the forum, two other members generally had to test the newcomer's “product” – which might be credit card numbers, counterfeit identification cards, botnets or exploits – and then write a review for the other members, Mularski said.

After a battle with another criminal group threatened to close down the site, Mularski approached site administrators with an offer to take over and host the site. They accepted.  

DarkMarket was under FBI control for two years and was dismantled in 2008.

Get daily email updates

SC Media's daily must-read of the most current and pressing daily news

By clicking the Subscribe button below, you agree to SC Media Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.