Authorities Shut Down Online Criminal Market AlphaBay And Hansa

The largest marketplace on the Darknet—where hundreds of thousands of criminals anonymously bought and sold drugs, weapons, hacking tools, stolen identities, and a host of other illegal goods and services—has been shut down as a result of one the most sophisticated and coordinated efforts to date on the part of law enforcement across the globe.

In early July, multiple computer servers used by the AlphaBay website were seized worldwide, and the site’s creator and administrator—a 25-year-old Canadian citizen living in Thailand—was arrested. AlphaBay operated for more than two years and had transactions exceeding $1 billion in Bitcoin and other digital currencies. The site, which operated on the anonymous Tor network, was a major source of heroin and fentanyl, and sales originating from AlphaBay have been linked to multiple overdose deaths in the United States.

AlphaBay reported that it serviced more than 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. Around the time of takedown, the site had more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals, and more than 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and fraudulent services. By comparison, the Silk Road dark market—the largest such enterprise of its kind before it was shut down in 2013—had approximately 14,000 listings.

The operation to seize AlphaBay’s servers was led by the FBI and involved the cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies in Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France, along with the European law enforcement agency Europol.

AlphaBay’s creator and administrator, Alexandre Cazes—who went by the names Alpha02 and Admin online—was arrested by Thai authorities on behalf of the U.S. on July 5, 2017. A week later, Cazes apparently took his own life while in custody in Thailand.

Because AlphaBay operated on the anonymous Tor network, administrators were confident they could hide the locations of the site’s servers and the identities of users. “They understood that law enforcement was monitoring their activity,” said FBI Special Agent Chris Thomas, “but they felt so protected by the dark web technology that they thought they could get away with their crimes.”

The FBI and its partners used a combination of traditional investigative techniques along with sophisticated new tools to break the case and dismantle AlphaBay. “The message to criminals,” is: Don’t think that you are safe because you’re on the dark web. There are no corners of the dark web where you can hide,” Thomas said.

The operation to seize AlphaBay coincided with efforts by Dutch law enforcement to shut down the Hansa Market, another prominent Darknet marketplace that was used to facilitate the sale of illegal drugs, malware, and other illegal services. After AlphaBay’s shutdown, criminal users and vendors flocked to Hansa Market, where they believed their identities would be masked.

Post Author: Churchill Aribodor

Churchill Aribodor is a cyberseurity and management systems expert. He is passionate about cybersecurity and devotes a lot of time raising awareness on secure cyberspace for the good of all. He has consulted, audited and trained professionals in this area. He is a rounded ICT thought leader covering people, process and technology. He can be reached through arihills@hotmail.com

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