Earlier this month, news broke that authorities had seized the Dark Web marketplace AlphaBay, an online black market that peddled everything from heroin to stolen identity and credit card data. European law enforcement authorities sayAlphaBay had more than 200,000 users, 40,000 vendors, with listings for more than 250,000 listings for drugs and other illicit substances.
Police say the winding up of Hansa Market is the final step in an undercover operation which began when Dutch police seized control of the illegal market place on June 20 after two of the site's administrator were arrested in Germany. Police also reported seizing four Lamborghinis and three houses worth almost $12 million. On July 12, Cazes "apparently took his own life while in custody in Thailand", the Justice Department says.
It will be interesting to see how much intelligence has been gathered from the Hansa monitoring to allow for further takedowns, as the Alpha Bay action will likely leave many users looking for a new home but the feds seem to be one step ahead.
The Justice Department announced Thursday that together with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and worldwide law enforcement agencies, officials had shut down "the largest darknet marketplace in history". Their efforts, they said, coincided with Dutch authorities shuttering another illicit online market, known as Hansa Market. "You can not hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network, and we will prosecute you", he said.
U.S. and European investigators collaborated for months on the takedown, which saw AlphaBay and Hansa - together responsible for more than 350,000 "illicit commodities" - first infiltrated and then taken offline.
The takedown was part of a larger worldwide effort to take down dark web sites, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at the news conference. But before he could be extradited, Cazes was found dead from an apparent suicide in his cell in Thailand.
Dark net sites are reached with special browsers that obscure the location and identity of the user and the server, making it hard for officials to locate and shut down sites.
The operation was similar to a controversial case in the USA where authorities seized a child porn darknet site and continued to run it for two weeks at an increased capacity to ensnare more users.
Prosecutors said AlphaBay didn't disguise the fact that its activities violated many laws. Vendors who flee those sites for Dream Market may still be compromised by law enforcement, and if arrested, could potentially give up the addresses of any new Dream Market's customers, too.
"This operation is an example of the improving concerted ability of law enforcement to strike against criminals, even on the dark net", he said. "For as long as drugs are illegal the DNMs will thrive".
This story will be updated throughout the day.
The success of this operation doesn't mean that darknet drug markets will stay down for long.
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