Europol has revealed how it worked with the US government and police in the Netherlands to bring down two of the largest illicit marketplaces on the dark web.
Months of coordination between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Dutch National Police and the EU’s law enforcement agency led to the closure this month of both AlphaBay and Hansa, which between them offered hundreds of thousands illegal goods and services including drugs, weapons and cyber crime tools.
AlphaBay users began to fear something was wrong at the beginning of July when the hidden website mysteriously went offline, prompting customers to speculate its owners may have pulled an exit scam.
The Wall Street Journal later reported that the illicit marketplace was closed down after coordinated action by a coalition of international law enforcement agencies.
The alleged head administrator of the site, Canadian Alexandre Cazes, was arrested at his luxury home in Thailand on 5 July, and is said to have been found dead in his Thai jail cell days later after hanging himself.
Cazes is said to have amassed a personal fortune of more than $23 million (€19.7 million) while running the site from Thailand for two years.
Dutch police took control of the Hansa dark web marketplace last month after arresting its two chief administrators in Germany.
With the support of Europol and officers from police forces across Europe, investigators kept the site open for a month, allowing them to gather information on users that is likely to lead to hundreds of new investigations.
Dutch police are said to have gathered valuable intelligence on high-value targets, and passed the details of some 10,000 people who purchased illicit items from vendors on Hansa to Europol.
Speaking at a special press conference in Washington DC last week, Europol boss Rob Wainwright said: “This is an outstanding success by authorities in Europe and the US.
“The capability of drug traffickers and other serious criminals around the world has taken a serious hit today after a highly-sophisticated joint action in multiple countries.
“By acting together on a global basis, the law enforcement community has sent a clear message that we have the means to identify criminality and strike back, even in areas of the dark web. There are more of these operations to come.”
AlphaBay is thought to have attracted some 40,000 vendors who served more than 200,000 customers all over the world. The website is conservatively estimated to have processed at least $1 billion since it was established in 2014.
Hansa is said to have seen an eight-fold increase in new member registrations after the demise of AlphaBay, which became the largest and most notorious dark web marketplace after the closure of the original Silk Road in 2013.