Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – An international anti-cyber crime operation in which the United States played a key role has shut down two of the largest marketplaces in the “Dark Web” — AlphaBay and Hansa Market.
The Dark Web is the World Wide Web content that exists on “darknets” or on overlay networks that use the internet but require specific software, configurations or authorization to access. It’s the favorite among criminals and hackers for transacting their illegal businesses.
Europol or the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, the law enforcement agency of the European Union, announced the massive bust undertaken jointly by the FBI; the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Dutch National Police. Police in other countries, including the United Kingdom, France and Lithuania, also took part in the operation.
“This is one of the most important criminal investigations of this entire year,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I believe that because of this operation, people around the world are safer from the threat of identity fraud and malware, and safer from deadly drugs.”
Sessions has good reasons to boast about the effects of what the FBI described as a “landmark” international law enforcement investigation.
Europol’s announcement said AlphaBay hosted roughly $1 billion in transactions since its founding in 2014. Most of these transactions were drugs and fraudulent IDs.
When it was taken offline on July 4, AlphaBay reached over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors, with nearly $4 million in bitcoin stored in escrow wallets on the site.
The U.S. Department of Justice said illegal drugs listed for sale on AlphaBay included heroin and fentanyl. It revealed that $450 million was spent via the marketplace between May 2015 and February 2017.
The Dutch National Police seized Hansa on June 20 after two men in Germany were arrested and servers were seized in Germany, The Netherlands and Lithuania. Instead of announcing they had shut down Hansa, the Dutch police continued to operate the website for “the covert monitoring of criminal activities on the platform.”
After AlphaBay went offline on July 4, users of the site migrated to Hansa in such numbers that Hansa saw an eightfold increase in users. Europol said it collected 10,000 addresses of European Hansa customers over the course of the investigation.
Europol believes the bust will lead to hundreds of new investigations in Europe.
“The capability of drug traffickers and other serious criminals around the world has taken a serious hit today,” said Rob Wainwright, Europol executive director.
Apart from terminating both dark sites, police also arrested Canadian national Alexander Cazes, the creator and administrator of AlphaBay. Cazes was arrested in Thailand.
Cazes, however, hanged himself in his cell in a Thai jail. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.
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