Darknet markets are known to fall through exit scams, seizures by law enforcement personnel and hacks.
In the latest instance involving the dark web, an operation in France has led to the seizure of a hidden marketplace known as Black Hand, which has been in operation for over two years.
Through the collaboration of law enforcement bodies such as the Customs Investigations, National Directorate of Intelligence and the French national police, Black Hand Market has been successfully shut down—bringing to a halt the operations carried out by operators and users of the marketplace.
The details surrounding the seizure were released via a PDF document by France’s Minister of Public Action and Accounts Gerald Darmanin.
In the document, the minister acknowledges that this is the first major operation of its type to take place in the country, and its downfall is indeed great news for the authorities because the market was used by thousands to perpetrate a wide range of illegal activities.
Details of the Operation
On Tuesday, June 12, the law enforcement personnel involved carried out raids from different parts of the country, leading to the arrest of the main site administrator and other prime suspects.
Since operations of such magnitude tend to incorporate multiple security agencies, those arrested were forwarded to the investigators at the Directorate of Judicial Police (DCPJ).
After about 48 hours under the watch of security personnel involved, those arrested were presented before a court in Lille, a city in Northern France, and charged with aiding crime, possession of counterfeit currency and drug-related charges, among others.
If found guilty of the charges, the culprits will spend could spend up to 10 years or more in prison. As of now, high-level investigations continue to take place to bring down the network entirely.
Female Suspect Found to Be an Admin of the Site
A few days into the investigations after the arrests of the individuals, in a surprising and rare case, a woman described as a housewife with no criminal record was found to have been engaging in the activities of the site as an administrator.
While undertaking her duties, she used the aliases Hades and Anouchka.
Further revelations by the security personnel show that the woman, age 28, is a mother of two and did not take part in creating the site but only worked as a senior moderator.
The police also concluded that as much as the suspect did not have a profile that suggests she is an IT specialist, all clues and evidence gathered indicates that she was knowledgeable in darknet-related matters.
Among those arrested are two other site moderators who had vendor accounts in the marketplace.
Then there is another individual who only worked as a vendor. All those involved were charged based on the available evidence.
Seizure of Funds and Equipment
During the raid, the police were also able to confiscate about 25,000 Euros of various cryptocurrencies, which is the standard form of payment in the darknet market ecosystem.
Other items seized by officers included IT equipment, about 4,000 Euros in cash, and last but not least, fake identification documents.
From this it can be noted that apart from the site admins losing the digital assets, the market’s buyers and sellers were also affected.
It is not something new but rather a norm whereby people must lose funds whenever a site unexpectedly goes down for good.
The reason is that the individuals are unaware of what is about to transpire and as such, they cannot do much to protect themselves.
Those using the market to purchase or sell are probably safe at this point, but anything might happen in the future, and in the event they are found to have used the site at one point or the other, then the authorities will definitely come for them.
All of this is dependent on if there will be sufficient evidence to implicate them.
The reason is that the authorities are very clear that their focus has now shifted to those who were engaging in buying because they were the backbone of the activities since they kept the business going.
As expected, they are keenly following the case as events continue to unfold.
Black Hand Had More Than 3,000 Users
From the information that was obtained, and based on an analysis of the available data from the servers, investigators found out that the site hosted over 3,000 users from different parts, but of course, a high percentage of user base was from France.
Owners of marketplaces tend to have a preference for the goods and services sold on their platforms, but for the case of Black Hand, users had a wide range of products from different categories with the most common being drugs, weapons, digital goods and bank details (which mainly fall under the fraud category).
It is not very uncommon to hear that a particular site only allows the sale of a particular good or has banned a specific product.
How the Site Earned Money
In general, Tor-based markets generate income from several streams. These can include commissions earned after the sale of a product, charging the customers whenever they withdraw funds and charging a membership fee of a certain amount.
For the case of Black Hand, the case was no different.
For the membership dues, it is ordinarily vendors who are required to remit the payments, and depending on the site, they can get a free vendor program provided they can prove they are active vendors in other marketplaces.
For Black Hand, they generated additional income by charging their users a membership fee of 25 to 50 Pounds.
Markets Going up and Others Falling
As earlier mentioned at the very beginning of this article, there are three ways in which darknet markets fall.
According to an analysis of the trends and patterns of hidden markets, before they go offline, three factors are responsible—seizures, hacks or exit scams.
However, and despite all that happens, market users are willing to take risks by buying/selling goods and services from the dark web.
Also, the dark web is notoriously known as a hub for users who are ready to go through hustles and tussles to come with their darknet markets.
Because of the willingness to take risks, new markets are emerging at a rate much faster than those that are going down, and hence it can be noted that users will migrate to another market whenever needed—as was the case when AlphaBay and Hansa users quickly switched to Dream Market and other sites.
In the end, irrespective of the activities involved, all parties face a wide variety of risks including hacks, data theft, scams and, last but not least, ending up in the hands of security personnel.