Dark web marketplaces AlphaBay and Hansa were shut down following the largest takedown operation conducted by Europol, the FBI and the US Department of Justice in collaboration with Internet security technology company Bitdefender.
“The capability of drug traffickers and other serious criminals around the world has taken a serious hit today after a highly sophisticated joint action in multiple countries,” said Rob Wainwright, the Executive Director of Europol at a special press conference in Washington DC. “By acting together on a global basis the law enforcement community has sent a clear message that we have the means to identify criminality and strike back, even in areas of the Dark Web. There are more of these operations to come.”
The servers were hijacked following close collaboration between authorities in Thailand, Lithuania, Canada, Britain and France.
AlphaBay and Hansa were two of the largest online terminals for illicit trades, including heroin, fentanyl, firearms and computer hacking tools. AlphaBay was 10 times larger than the Silk Road, with over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors, according to the Europol investigation. The total spent between May 2015 and February 2017 was $450m, writes BBC News.
After it was taken down, users massively migrated to Hansa, which registered an eight-fold increase, authorities announced. As Hansa had already been taken over by Dutch authorities in June, it was easy to covertly monitor incoming traffic from AlphaBay and record user names, passwords and bitcoin transactions, including 10,000 physical addresses of Hansa customers.
“This is likely one of the most important criminal cases of the year,” said US Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday morning.
“Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity by ‘going dark.’ This case, pursued by dedicated agents and prosecutors, says you are not safe. You cannot hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network. And we will prosecute you.”
While awaiting extradition, AlphaBay’s co-founder, 26 year-old Canadian national Alexandre Cazes, was found dead in his cell in Bangkok, after hanging himself, shortly after his arrest last week.
After months of coordination, the international investigation brought down the most elaborate underground criminal systems. The operation will be followed by a significant number of arrests of drug traffickers and other criminals. The FBI and Europol refused to comment further.