It has now been confirmed that AlphaBay and the third biggest black marketplace, Hansa, have been closed for business following a ‘landmark’ investigation by international law enforcement agencies.
With over 200,000 users and 40,000 sellers, 250,000 listings and boasting a size of nearly 20 times bigger than the infamous Silk Road (shut down in 2013 by the FBI) and making $1 billion in sales, AlphaBay was one of the internet’s largest and most prolific black marketplaces.
“[Law enforcement] coordinated a takedown and have punched a big hole in the operating ability of drug traffickers and other serious criminals around the world,”
– Rob Wainwright (Europol Director)
Europol, Dutch police, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency joined together in a sophisticated operation that saw AlphaBay shut down on July 5 after the 25-year-old creator and administrator of the website, Alexandre Cazes, was arrested in Thailand.
The whole situation is a bizarre one as, according to American prosecutors, Cazes was using his own name in a Hotmail email address he had used for years (Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com). This address would automatically send a welcome email to every single new user and was also the address attached to the password recovery message – meaning there was a direct link to the creator for investigators.
To make this even more strange that he was so blasé, Cazes’ alias on the site (Alpha02) was also linked with the email address. His every more careless choice not to encrypt is personal laptop meant that investigators gained access to ‘passwords to AlphaBay’s servers and other infrastructure’ easily. Altogether, these small instances meant that a lengthy digital footprint and trail was left and was simple for investigators to follow. With so much evidence against him, Cases was found dead of apparent suicide on July 12 whilst in custody.
Unfortunately, Cazes’ death isn’t the first, or likely to be the last, associated with the dark web. There have been many cases of people killed by taking drugs bought from AlphaBay alone.
“One victim was just 18 years old when in February she overdosed on a powerful synthetic opioid which she had bought on AlphaBay.”
– Jeff Sessions, US Attorney General
There have even been victims as young as 13-years-old. These deaths show how easy the dark web is to both access and buy from, and highlights the need for investigators to continue their fight to tackle them. We need more experts in the field to gain intelligence on the dark web and the surrounding digital investigation.