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I've seen a couple of clearnet websites that have been around for years that, although not directly, do create and promote a type of community where most of its members sell and buy stuff such as stolen/cracked online accounts, stolen databases, hacking tools such as bruteforcers, blackhat methods, perhaps a user may offer services for social engineering or a service for doxing for someone's financial or SSN information.

So although the website itself claims to be "neutral" and have a ToS that states that it does not promote such activities, pretty much half the userbase does it anyway, and half of the threads on the forums relate to doing something illegal or selling something stolen like a cracked game account.

Can such a website can be legally shut down? If so, how and would it be difficult?

  • What jurisdiction the website falls under will determine which rules could be used against it. – Jason Aller Aug 8 '18 at 20:29
  • In the US, see Communications Decency Act section 230. – Stackstuck Aug 10 '18 at 6:18
  • The penalties are so large for hacking for a reason. As for drug use there are some countries these drugs are legal and the United States has essentially decided restricting these websites would be like the Great Firewall of China at this point. – William Sep 9 '18 at 20:34
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So much of what you are asking comes down to a combination of copyright infringement, laws regarding personal information and theft, national/international jurisdiction, and prosecutorial discretion when it comes to the likelihood of success of an investigation and prosecution.

Talking about illegal activity does not always equal breaking the law. Writing software that breaks a law or a TOS is not itself always illegal. Buying and selling personal and financial information is not always illegal, depending on the location of the server and the jurisdiction over the owners of the site. The TOS of a site can be simply boilerplate that the site owner can invoke at their discretion; and since a TOS is a contract, it cannot contract for anything that is illegal.

Good examples are the sometimes convoluted legal histories and attempted or successful takedowns of such sites as The Pirate Bay - Wikipedia and Silk Road (marketplace) - Wikipedia. Those examples will show you the complex issues involved and the difficulties of law enforcement.

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In the U.S., this kind of website is protected by Section 230 (the DCMA), with the exception of certain human trafficking related content under recent legislation.

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It's difficult for us to tell what you think these websites are doing, given your description. The First Amendment protects a certain amount of the activity that you seem to be referring to, especially the part about describing how to do things. Although the "provider of an interactive computer service" (essentially the network) may be immunized from liability under 47 USC 230, the "information content provider" (the website operator) is not. So via civil lawsuit, the court could order such a site shut down, especially if the actions of the website were criminal. Trafficking in stolen passwords is a crime under 18 USC 1030(a)(6) and

(g) Any person who suffers damage or loss by reason of a violation of this section may maintain a civil action against the violator to obtain compensatory damages and injunctive relief or other equitable relief.

There are some state laws against trafficking in social security numbers, but no general federal law. Enabling social engineering is entirely legal.

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