DOJ takes down dark net marketplace

DOJ takes down dark net marketplace

BY JOE UCHILL - 07/20/17 10:37 AM EDT

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday said it had shut down the online criminal market AlphaBay and one of its chief competitors, Hansa.

"This is likely one of the most important criminal cases of the year," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a press conference.

Sessions said the DOJ had seized the infrastructure and arrested the criminal market's owner, ending speculation about why AlphaBay had recently disappeared.

On July 5, Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian citizen living in Thailand, was arrested for creating and running the AlphaBay marketplace. He reportedly took his own life in Thai custody one week later.
AlphaBay went offline around the same time as the arrest.

AlphaBay sold illegal goods, including drugs, weapons and hacking tools, anonymously. Like the Silk Road marketplace before it, was a site hosted on the Tor network's hidden services — meaning it didn't leave a traceable internet address for authorities to track down. Tor also protected customers' internet addresses, and payments were handled using difficult-to-trace cryptocurrency.

A DOJ press release notes that there were more than 350,000 listings for goods on AlphaBay when it was taken down. Silk Road only had 14,000.

After AlphaBay went dark, many of its patrons moved to Hansa, a competitor, not knowing that law enforcement had taken control of that site as well. 

"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,'" said Sessions. 

"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."

Because the sites on the Tor network are not searchable by sites such as Google, they are referred to as being on the dark web. However, the phrase "going dark" is usually applied to criminals using encrypted communications, not the dark web.

Law enforcement is getting better at these takedowns, said Ronnie Tokazowski, senior malware analyst at the threat intelligence group Flashpoint.

"Usually, within six months of one market going down, the next market will take over as the go-to destination. But this has a chance for more lasting effects," he said.

Tokazowski pointed to the flood of information that AlphaBay and Hansa would provide law enforcement to work with.

When AlphaBay went down, the reason was not immediately clear. Many thought that the site's disappearance was an "exit scam," where a market owner takes all of the cryptocurrency stored by the site and runs.

The investigation is ongoing, including a search for site staff members.

The Tor network, which anonymizes web traffic, was developed for persecuted activists, charitable groups and journalists to communicate without fear of reprisal from oppressive governments. The majority of its traffic is to visit traditional web sites.

The DOJ credited the Royal Thai Police, Dutch National Police, Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, Europol and French National Police for assistance on the case.

Updated 12:26 p.m.


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