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20 July 2017

2 giant dark web marketplaces that sold drugs, guns, and data shut down in global operation

It's getting harder to make illegal transactions on the Dark Web
It’s getting harder to make illegal transactions on the Dark Web

Image: ingibiork/Shutterstock

A huge global effort shut down a pair of huge dark web marketplaces where transactions of drugs, firearms, and stolen data reportedly generated at least $1 billion.

The FBI, DEA, the Dutch National Police, and Europol worked to take down AlphaBay and Hansa, the largest and third-largest dark web markets, respectively. 

According to a press release from Europol, AlphaBay was home to “over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors” with a “conservative” estimate of $1 billion in transactions.

Rumors about AlphaBay’s demise had been circulating for days after the market was shut down in early July. 

Shutting down two markets at once

Launched in 2014, a successor to the Silk Road which was shut down in 2013, the AlphaBay was accessible only on the dark web and accepted two forms of cryptocurrency: Bitcoin and the anonymity-oriented Monero. It allowed users to purchase or sell drugs, guns, stolen user data, and other illegal goods.

Hansa is a smaller but similar marketplace to AlphaBay. Dutch police were able to infiltrate Hansa and identify users who swarmed there after AlphaBay was shut down.

As part of the operation, Alexandre Cazes, a 26-year-old Canadian who is accused of being one of AlphaBay’s administrators, was arrested in Thailand on July 5. 

During the press conference, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions focused on the illegal drugs that were exchanged on AlphaBay, noting the recent opioid crisis in the United States.

As of earlier this year, 122 vendors advertised fentanyl, 238 advertised heroine. We know of several Americans who were killed by drugs on Alpha Bay. One victim was just 18 years old when, in February, she overdosed on a powerful synthetic opioid which she had bought on Alpha Bay.

According to Sessions, the U.S. worked with officials in Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the UK, France, and Germany in shutting these markets down.

The Trump sideshow

Of course, when it came times to take questions from the press, all the questions were about the comments by President Trump to the New York Times in which he said he wouldn’t have tapped Sessions for his role if Trump knew Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. 

Both Sessions and U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ducked those questions, instead focusing on the bust. 

Said Sessions, “We in the department will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interest and we wholeheartedly join in the priorities that President Trump—he gave us several directives. One is to dismantle internet transactional criminal organizations. That is what we are announcing today.” 

And so the controversy in D.C. swirls, but at least now Sessions has a victory to hang his hat on.

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