logo

21 July 2017

25yo running $30m drug empire from Thailand

Smith and Wesson gun for sale on AlphaBay for A$1300. The website has since been seized by authorities and its alleged mastermind was recently found dead in a Thailand prison cell.

TO THE outside world, Alexandre Cazes was living a dream life.

The 25-year-old Canadian was living in a villa in Thailand running a multi-million dollar business from his laptop. He had a Lamborghini and a Porsche for himself and a Mini Cooper for his wife. He had more money than he knew what to do with and stashed it away in bank accounts in Thailand, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

But the veneer of perfection was obliterated when he was arrested earlier this month and days later was found dead in a Bangkok prison cell.

He was the alleged mastermind of AlphaBay, a huge online marketplace selling illicit items like drugs, guns and fraudulent documents which operated on the dark web.

The website was the largest of its kind on the dark web and was built to house more illegal transactions than the infamous Silk Road online marketplace operated by Ross Ulbricht, who is currently serving two concurrent life sentences in a New York prison, sharing showers with El Chapo.

According to authorities, Alexandre Cazes ammased a $29 million fortune through AlphaBay but ultimately he suffered the same fate as the dark web pioneer Ulbricht when US federal agents were able to track his identity via an old hotmail e-mail address and eventually swoop in on his operation.

He is believed to have hanged himself in his cell just over a week ago prior to a scheduled court hearing, Thai police said.

At 25, he appeared to have it all. Picture: hanke.io/darknet-business-alphabay-desnake/

At 25, he appeared to have it all. Picture: hanke.io/darknet-business-alphabay-desnake/Source:Supplied

POLICE HIT THE DARK WEB WITH A ONE-TWO PUNCH

When police arrested Cazes they were able to obtain access to his open laptop, and gained administrator-level access to the Tor-hosted AlphaBay site. They were able to take control of all the Bitcoin used in sales on the site and swiftly shut it down on July 5.

Many users then flooded to another major dark web marketplace called Hansa which was largely based in the Netherlands.

What they didn’t know is that Dutch police had already secretly taken control of the market’s server, giving them the ability to identify and track buyers and sellers of illicit goods. For weeks agents impersonated the administrators in an operation which aimed to establish as many new leads as possible and maximise confusion within drug-buying community on the dark web, according to Dutch cybercrime prosecutor Martijn Egberts.

And it appears to have been a very successful strategy.

“The cryptomarket community (is) spooked,” said dark web researcher Patrick Shortis, of Brunel University in London. “Reddit boards are filled with users asking questions about their orders.”

Drug sales continued as usual as investigators logged each transaction and sent shipment details to local police forces in the relevant area. On Thursday they made public the details of the sting.

One of the most challenging parts of the undercover operation, Mr Egberts said, was mediating the frequent disputes between buyers and sellers.

“It turned out to be a lot of work,” he said. “There are so many complaints. There are a lot of tickets to be watched, to be solved. The biggest effort for us was to get the site going on a way that nobody noticed it was us.”

Over the course of the entire operation Dutch police were able to scoop up some 10,000 addresses for Hansa buyers outside of Holland.

Investigators have since left their calling cards on the darknet websites.

Investigators have since left their calling cards on the darknet websites.Source:Supplied

Prior to its takedown, AlphaBay reached over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. There were more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals on the site, and more than 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents including Australian drivers licenses and Australian passports.

“This is an outstanding success by authorities in Europe and the US,” Rob Wainwright, the Executive Director of Europol, said Thursday, while appearing alongside the US Attorney-General, Acting FBI Director and Deputy Director of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, at a special press conference in Washington DC.

“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,” he said.

However there is little doubt that plenty more sites will pop up on the shadowy dark web to take their place. The demand for the items they sell is simply too great.

Europol Executive Director Robert Mark Wainwright, centre, accompanied by US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, right, and Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, left, at a news conference to announce an international cybercrime enforcement action on July 20, 2017, in Washington. Picture: Andrew Harnik

Europol Executive Director Robert Mark Wainwright, centre, accompanied by US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, right, and Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, left, at a news conference to announce an international cybercrime enforcement action on July 20, 2017, in Washington. Picture: Andrew HarnikSource:AP

ALPHABAY KINGPIN’S ONE BIG MISTAKE

Cyber analysts said Cazes appears to have been caught out by mistakes rather than a weakness in the underlying security technology used by AlphaBay.

According to a police indictment, he accidentally broadcast his personal Hotmail address in welcome messages sent to new users.

For a period in 2014, when a user of AlphaBay joined the site or forgot their password they were sent an email, the headers of which contained the address Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com. Authorities were eventually able to match the e-mail address with Alexandre Cazes which appears to be the beginning of the end for the online kingpin.

According to his father, Martin Cazes, his son had been living in Thailand for four years with his wife. However he doesn’t believe his son was the mastermind behind AlphaBay that the authorities are claiming him to be.

“I’d like your opinion on how the biggest site can be created, managed and operated by one person,” he told CBC News over Facebook.

“And, by the way, every time I saw my son, he was enjoying life, he never looked stressed.”

He said he was waiting for the results of an autopsy on his son’s death to come out before he commented further.

— With AP

Please follow and like us:

Share
#

Write a comment

9+7 = ?