After weeks of speculation, the US and international authorities finally broke their silence about shutting down TOR marketplaces.
On Thursday, two major sting operations led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Dutch National Police, with the support of Europol reportedly shut down marketplaces on the Dark Web.
Following reports of AlphaBay‘s shut down early this month, another dark web marketplace suffered the same fate: Hansa.
The two prominent TOR marketplaces were allegedly involved with selling illegal products such as firearms, drugs, malware, and stolen credit card information to name a few. Shutting down two of the largest criminal marketplaces on the Dark Web is considered one of the most sophisticated operations ever made to date.International authorities are cracking down #DarkWeb marketplaces. #Hansa gone!Click To Tweet
According to reports, AlphaBay alone has over 350,000 listings, 200,000 members, and 40,000 vendors. On July 4th and to the horror of its members, AlphaBay went mysteriously offline.
Initial reports claimed that AlphaBay servers were seized by authorities in Quebec, Canada while one of its operators, Alexandre Cazes, was captured in Thailand. A few hours after his arrest, Cazes was found dead in his jail toilet in what appears to be a suicide. Local Thai authorities reported that Cazes took his life by hanging himself using a towel.
Before AlphaBay went down, it was purported that the Dutch National Police already took control of Hansa on June 20th. Apparently, authorities were able to seize servers in Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Germany and they used it to monitor the criminal activities in the marketplace.
Rob Wainwright, executive director of Europol, said that they left Hansa up on purpose to watch as AlphaBay supporters migrate to it. They used this ploy to monitor new transactions and “sweep up all those new users.”
“They flocked to Hansa in their droves. We reported eight times increase in the number of new users on Hansa immediately following the takedown of AlphaBay,” Wainwright said. He also said that authorities were able to identify thousands of buyers and sellers.
“The usernames and passwords of thousands of buyers and sellers of illicit commodities have been identified and are subject to more follow-up investigation by Europol and our partner agencies.”
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions also warned criminals who use the Dark Web to evade prosecution: “You cannot hide,” he said, “We will find you.”
On his speech, Sessions also mentioned their knowledge of several American deaths due to drugs acquired through AlphaBay.
“One victim was just 18 years old when in February she overdosed on a powerful synthetic opioid which she had bought on AlphaBay.”
According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), fentanyl and heroin are among the drugs being sold on AlphaBay. In a court filing, it added that around $450 million USD was spent in total via the marketplace between May 2015 and February 2017.
Authorities Shut Down Dark Web Marketplaces: The Operation
Europol‘s European Cybercrime Centre (ECC) served as the central coordinating unit of the global operation. It provided the technical support needed for the Hansa marketplace investigation. In a statement released by the organization, they said:
“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 success of the operation was said to be due to the strategy developed by FBI, DEA, the Dutch Police, and Europol which magnified the disruptive impact of the joint action against AlphaBay and Hansa.
The sting operation involved taking covert control of Hansa to monitor the activities of its patrons and shutting down AlphaBay as a ploy to further analyze the flow of criminal activities from one marketplace to another.
The strategy allowed the Dutch authorities to identify and disrupt criminal activities on Hansa while sweeping new users that came from AlphaBay.
The collective effort of law enforcement agencies from different nations served as proof that organized crimes can be taken down effectively if everyone will come together to stop it.
As per FBI acting director Andrew McCabe:
“Our critics will say, as we shutter one site another site emerges. And they may be right. But that is the nature of criminal work. It never goes away. You have to constantly go at it.”