Two major dark web markets, AlphaBay and Hansa, have been shut down, US and European authorities announced. The marketplaces offered drugs, weapons, forged documents and malware. AlphaBay, the larger of the two sites, hosted around 369,000 listings for various items at the time of its seizure, the US Department of Justice said.
AlphaBay went down unexpectedly earlier this month, prompting speculation among users that the site's founders had scammed them or been caught by law enforcement. It turns out the latter was true. Today's announcement confirms an earlier Wall Street Journal report on the shutdown.
The Justice Department discovered the identity of AlphaBay's operator, Alexandre Cazes, in part because he used a Hotmail email address associated with his real name in password reset emails to his customers. Cazes, a Canadian citizen living in Thailand, was arrested on July 5 and is believed to have hanged himself in his cell on July 12.
Cazes launched AlphaBay in spring 2014 with the goal of creating "the largest e-Bay style underworld marketplace," he wrote on the site.
Hansa, the third-largest dark web market, was also shut down today by Dutch authorities — after they ran the site for a month and collected information on its users.
"Europol and partner agencies in those countries supported the Dutch National Police to take over the Hansa marketplace on 20 June 2017 under Dutch judicial authorization, facilitating the covert monitoring of criminal activities on the platform until it was shut down today, 20 July 2017," Europol said in a statement. "In the past few weeks, the Dutch Police collected valuable information on high value targets and delivery addresses for a large number of orders. Some 10,000 foreign addresses of Hansa market buyers were passed on to Europol."
The Justice Department compared the takedown of the two sites to the shuttering of Silk Road in 2013, noting that AlphaBay and Hansa hosted tens of thousands more listings than Silk Road.
"This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year — taking down the largest dark net marketplace in history," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. "The dark net is not a place to hide. The Department will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate criminals, drug traffickers, and their enablers wherever they are."
Sessions also tied the marketplace to several heroin and fentanyl overdoses in the US, emphasising AlphaBay's connection to the opioid crisis. Several vendors have been charged with selling drugs that were used in overdoses, the Justice Department said.
And it sounds like more arrests might be coming — the Justice Department says that the FBI and the US Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Georgia have identified an AlphaBay staff member living in the US, and the investigation into that person is ongoing.