A major operation orchestrated by the FBI, DEA, Dutch National Police, and Europol managed to infiltrate and undermine the underground infrastructure of two primary interconnected darknet marketplaces.
International investigators officially seized Hansa dark site today along with Alphabay, shutting the sites down. These pages traded roughly 350,000 “illicit commodities,” which include hacking software, guns, and a smorgasbord of drugs, according to a Europol press release. Authorities said this operation was one of the most significant and complex operations ever conducted against dark web marketplaces.
The European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship commented on the situation: “The Dark Web is growing into a haven of rampant criminality. This is a threat to our societies and our economies that we can only face together, on a global scale. The take-down of the two largest criminal Dark Web markets in the world by European and American law enforcement authorities shows the important and necessary result of international cooperation to fight this criminality. I congratulate the American and Dutch authorities for their successful work, as well as Europol for centrally supporting this endeavour.”
Popularity of Dark Markets and Subsequent Investigation
Both Alphabay and Hansa have been extremely popular marketplaces for Tor users to browse and purchase illicit wares. According to the Europol press release, Alphabay reached a peak of 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. Apparently, there were over 250,000 listings for drugs and chemicals. There were also 100,000 listings for fraudulent documents. It was the largest underground marketplace. Hansa, on the other hand, was the third largest. It catered to many users and dealt in high volume drug and gun transactions.
Police and other international forces have been tracking and investigating these type of sites for several years. A company called Bitdefender has been aiding various police organizations in analyzing transactions taking place on the aforesaid sites. The Press release provided an overview:
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.
The press release further mentioned the U.S. DEA in cooperation with the FBI, conducted an operation called Bayonet, which weeded out the Alphabay servers and led to the arrest of its founder, one Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian national. He was apparently living a luxurious life in Thailand. Jamie Redman of bitcoin.com previously reported Cazes was found dead in his cell. Reports suggest he hung himself.
Redman detailed what officials discovered in the investigation, “Reports from The Bangkok Post detail that authorities seized three Thai homes that belonged to Cazes worth 400 million baht (11.7M USD). Additionally Thai police claim they confiscated four Lamborghinis and said Cazes has been residing in Thailand for over eight years.”
Europol’s Usage of Digital Forensic Analysis
Europol played a major role in helping analyze information absorbed from the Hansa marketplace. The European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) leveraged their technical and forensic acumen to infiltrate and undermine the Hansa Marketplace. Intelligence they gained through this work was subsequently deployed to investigators across the globe. According to the press release, the distribution of these intelligence packets led to law enforcement in 37 countries to begin new investigations into users who may have accessed and used Hansa.
Nic “Content” Carter even tweeted police have been collecting data on 10,000 Hansa users, and they could use any information gathered to spearhead a massive arrest campaign in the near future. It appears police and government agencies had covert control over the website for about a month, the Europol press release stated. Anyone who traded in bitcoin and ethereum can likely be traced if they sold their cryptocurrency on a major, centralized exchange platform.
This isn’t just another darknet bust – police ran Hansa for a full month, collecting info on 10,000 users.
— Nic◾”Content”⛓Carter (@nic__carter) July 20, 2017
Briefing by Jeff Sessions on Dark Web Marketplace Busts
Furthermore, in a Department of Justice press briefing today, Jeff Sessions revealed that president Donald Trump ordered authorities to pursue and undermine Hansa and Alphabay. Sessions said Trump wanted to dismantle these transnational darknet-based criminal networks. He said, “One is to dismantle internet transnational criminal organizations. That is what we are announcing today. Dismantling of the largest dark website in the world by far.”
During the briefing, Sessions implied that too many American’s are dying of drug overdose. He mentioned he knew of several American’s that died of drugs purchased on Alphabay. He said sites like Alphabay and Hansa are havens for prolific drug dealers, and implied these organizations must be stopped at all costs. He said that he believes America has been made safer as a result of recent darknet busts.
Do you think government shuttering these sites is a good thing? Will darknet marketplaces continue to crop up and improve? Let us know in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, alphabaymarket.net, and Europol
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