The United States and other international agencies have managed to shut down two major
drug markets on the dark web within the last few weeks. First, AlphaBay and now Hansa Market.
Earlier this month, law enforcement seized operations for AlphaBay, which was known to sell virtually every category of drugs along with illegal services and content like stolen credit card information and other such activities on the dark web.
Now, the other shoe has also dropped with the takedown of the Hansa Market, a site which emerged to widespread popularity after the downfall of AlphaBay.
The Netherlands-based market saw an influx of new customers as a result of AlphaBay’s closure—so many, in fact, that the site had to temporarily halt new registrations in order to accommodate for the increase in traffic. The registration portal reopened almost a week later.
But it has now been revealed that Hansa Market was actually seized by Dutch law enforcement weeks ago, and the authorities have been running the site as an undercover operation the whole time.
While the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was working on the AlphaBay shut down, Dutch investigators decided to take action on Hansa Market as well, knowing there would be a rise in membership from AlphaBay “refugees.” They were able to seize Hansa’s servers in Lithuania and receive access to the site’s database.
From there, they oversaw operations as usual while quietly gathering information of vendors and buyers to eventually learn their identity.
The market engaged in trading of drugs, hacking software as well as other illegal goods and services. About 1,000 orders were being placed every day for 40,000 ads, with more than 50,000 transactions taking place. This is all since the authorities started monitoring the site.
Starting with AlphaBay
When AlphaBay was closed down, it targeted around 40,000 vendors marketing illegal
drugs to more than 200,000 customers.
According to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, many Americans had died from overdoses while using drugs sold on AlphaBay. The said market was about ten times larger than The Silk Road, another infamous market shut down by the FBI in October 2013.
Stampede to Hansa
The Dutch police were able to identify criminal activities occurring in Hansa.
They were also able to identify the new users of the market
who had migrated from AlphaBay and were looking for a new trading spot on the dark web to conduct their criminal activities.
A statement from Europol disclosed that several buyers and sellers on AlphaBay started to flock towards Hansa market. It was noted that there was an eight-fold increase in the number of users in the market, following the shutdown of AlphaBay.
Like bees running towards a honey pot, the transactions processed in Hansa rose from 1,000 to 8,000 when AlphaBay was shut down.
The Dutch police have been able to identify the usernames and the passwords of several buyers and sellers of illegal commodities. Europol and partnering agencies are following up the information with investigations.
The FBI, Europol, as well as authorities in Lithuania and Germany are collaborating in the investigation.
According to reports, the FBI and the Dutch police are following leads for other markets on the dark web, making use of the passwords recovered from AlphaBay and Hansa in order to hack into the vendors’ accounts in several other markets.
Given the sheer amount of power these agencies hold, it is expected that several arrests will be made in the coming weeks and months. And it’s possible other dark web site takedowns will also occur.
Battle Over Dark Web Only Beginning
After an unexpectedly turbulent month in the darknet market realm, online discussion from members of that community conclude that this battle might be won, but the war is still not over.
Law enforcement agencies might have cleverly shut down these illegal markets on the dark web, but it’s only a matter of time for another drug market to open up and step in to fill the gap left by these two site. This is often the case after a major shutdown.
Sellers on the dark web normally use the same nicknames for different marketplaces. This is because they have already built up a customer base with the quality of their services in earlier markets. But after the recent takedowns, it is not likely that this practice will continue.
Vendors now realize it’s imperative that they leave their old identities behind and begin afresh at other darknet markets in the future—so they can cover their tracks and safeguard their identities.
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