No place to go
“You cannot hide,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned users of the dark net in a press conference this week.
A joint effort from the US Department of Justice and Europol led to one of the largest sting operations which surmounted in the closing of AlphaBay and Hansa – two major dark web marketplaces.
What kind of web?
The dark web is the hidden layer of the internet. It cannot be found by simply typing in keywords to a web browser. It is a network that is accessed using specific software, configurations and authorization.
It is covert communication, which makes it difficult for the FBI to track users and activity.
Major sites like AlphaBay and Hansa were marketplaces for the illegal sale of drugs, pornography, weapons and stolen data. It is estimated that over $450 million was spent on AlphaBay in the last two years.
Got a break
Authorities continuously try to monitor the dark web but have had no such luck in majorly taking it down until now. The sting operation was carefully coordinated between the US Department of Justice and Europol to track users and ultimately make arrests.
Authorities shut down AlphaBay while simultaneously planning for users to migrate to another site.
Well, users did turn to another site, Hansa, which was already secretly seized by the FEDs. Hansa users increased by eight times after AlphaBay shut down, all while Europol gathered postal addresses and tracked illegal activity to build their cases.
This infiltration allowed authorities to follow leads regarding both users and other dark web sites.
The FEDs then shut down Hansa, and used their gathered data to identify users and arrest them.
One of those arrested was Alexandre Cazes, an administrator of AlphaBay. Cazes was found in Thailand and planned to be extradited and prosecuted. However, Thai authorities found Cazes hanged in his prison cell before that could happen. They suspect suicide.
There is no clue as to how the FEDs and Europol were able to infiltrate and plan the sting, and they are offering no comments since they plan to continue doing so in the future.
Dutch authorities have already posted a list of those people under investigation, most pseudonyms, to warn of the severity of participating in the dark web.