Criminal dark web markets closed in major crackdown

Camille Francis
July 21, 2017

Two major dark web markets, AlphaBay and Hansa, have been shut down, U.S. and European authorities announced. Europol revealed today that the market had been under the covert control of cops for the last month, following a series of raids and arrests last month.

Europol said that the closure of AlphaBay and Hansa will lead to hundreds of new investigations in Europe alone.

The FBI, DEA, the Dutch National Police, and Europol worked to take down AlphaBay and Hansa, the largest and third-largest dark web markets, respectively. Hansa's servers were seized in the Netherlands, Germany and Lithuania.

"In the past few weeks, the Dutch Police collected valuable information on high value targets and delivery addresses for a large number of orders".

"There are more of these operations to come", a Europol official stated. The action permitted surveillance of criminal activities on the marketplace before it was shut down in July. Cazes, a Canadian citizen living in Thailand, was arrested on July 5 and is believed to have hanged himself in his cell on July 12. Investigators say AlphaBay was also a significant source of Fentanyl and Heroin linked to overdose deaths in the United States, including one in Portland, Oregon earlier this year.

The marketplaces use online currency Bitcoin to trade the goods, an anonymous currency that is virtually untraceable.

Law enforcement officials have struggled for years to crack down on these marketplaces, which are hard to locate because their software is distributed across the Tor network, which anonymises users and makes them nearly impossible to track.

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In total, 38,000 transactions were identified by Europol, who then alerted other agencies in 600 cases. Once AlphaBay went down, their new listings tripled to approximately 15,000 a week.

Though this will temporarily slow the sale of illegal items on the dark web, it will only be a matter of time before new websites spring up, says Gareth Owenson at University of Portsmouth.

He called this "joint hit" on both of these dark markets "one of the most sophisticated law enforcement operations against cybercrime that we have ever seen".

The FBI also described Cazes as the main suspect and said he had been indicted on multiple charges related to drugs and other crimes in California federal court. "Every day, as a result of drug abuse, American families are being bankrupted, friendships broken and promising lives cut short", he said.

Users could rate the more than 40,000 vendors who sold illegal goods on AlphaBay and the site's administrators had procedures to solve disputes between vendors and buyers, according to the indictment. What those dark web users didn't-and couldn't-know: That chaos was planned. "You can not hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network, and we will prosecute you", he said.

In agreement was Robert Pattinson, acting deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, who said that those who operate such dark web markets "all share one additional common characteristic, they operate on borrowed time".

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