Cops harpoon two dark net whales in megabust: AlphaBay and Hansa

Tor won't shield you, warn Feds

Two of the largest dark net marketplaces - AlphaBay and Hansa - have been shut down following an international police operation.

AlphaBay was the largest criminal souk on the dark web, accessible through a hidden service on the Tor network. Prior to its takedown, AlphaBay reached over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors, according to a Europol statement on the takedown.

During a joint FBI/ Europol press conference today, AlphaBay was described as 10 times bigger than its infamous predecessor, the Silk Road.

There were over 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals on AlphaBay, and over 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and fraudulent services. Law enforcement estimate $1bn in trades made in digital currencies flowed through the site since its inception in 2014.

Hansa was the third largest criminal marketplace on the dark web, and also specialised in trading illicit drugs and other illegal commodities. 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.

With the help of Bitdefender, an internet security company advising Europol's European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), Europol provided Dutch authorities with an investigation lead into Hansa in 2016. Subsequent enquiries located the Hansa market infrastructure in the Netherlands, with follow-up investigations by the Dutch police leading to the arrest of its two administrators in Germany and the seizure of servers in the Netherlands, Germany and Lithuania.

Europol and partner agencies in those countries supported the Dutch National Police to take over the Hansa marketplace on 20 June 2017 under Dutch judicial authorisation, facilitating the covert monitoring of criminal activities on the platform until it was shut down today, 20 July 2017. In the past few weeks, the Dutch Police collected valuable information on high value targets and delivery addresses for a large number of orders. Some 10 000 foreign addresses of Hansa market buyers were passed on to Europol.

Elsewhere an FBI and DEA-led operation called Bayonet, identified a suspect whom they believed could be the creator and administrator of AlphaBay, a Canadian citizen resident in Thailand. On 5 July 2017, Alexandre Cazes was arrested in Thailand and the site taken down. The 25-year-old died in custody in Thailand a week later.

Millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrencies were frozen and seized. Servers were also seized in Canada and the Netherlands, a DoJ statement on the operation explains.

Andrew McCabe, acting director of the FBI, hailed the international law enforcement co-operation that led to the takedown of the two marketplaces. He conceded that other dark web markets were likely to spring up and take their place. These too would be targeted.

“The so-called anonymity of the dark web is illusory,” said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the DEA. “We will find and prosecute drug traffickers who set up shop there."

During the press conference, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein echoed these sentiments and warned prospective dark net customers and traders that Tor would not necessarily shield their identities. Dark net users assume Tor will protect their ID but that's not always true, he said.

The investigation into AlphaBay revealed that numerous vendors sold fentanyl and heroin. Multiple overdose deaths across the US have been attributed to purchases on the site. ®

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