How the Biggest Online Black Market, AlphaBay, Was Shut Down

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At the time of the takedown, AlphaBay had more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals and another 100,000 for stolen identification documents and counterfeit goods, making it much larger than the Silk Road dark web marketplace that was seized by law enforcement in November 2013.

Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney General, said the AlphaBay network was among the most prolific drug suppliers. Investigators say AlphaBay was also a significant source of Fentanyl and Heroin linked to overdose deaths in the United States, including one in Portland, Oregon earlier this year.

Law enforcement officials have struggled for years to crack down on these marketplaces, which are hard to locate because their software is distributed across the Tor network, which anonymises users and makes them nearly impossible to track.

Andrew McCabe, acting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, called this a "landmark operation" as "Alpha Bay was roughly ten times the size of the Silk Road, so we are talking about multiple servers, different countries, hundreds of millions of dollars in crypto currency, in a dark net drug trade that spans the globe".

Dutch officials first gained control of Hansa Market in late June and continued to operate the marketplace in stealth while gathering data on its users, according to Europol.

On the now defunct AlphaBay, for instance, researchers found 414 arms-related advertisements among the website's almost 37,000 listings during a one-week span last September, making it the most popular dark web marketplace in terms of gun ads before it abruptly shuttered July 4. This system, as well as administrators' insistence that customers use digital currency like Bitcoin rather than traditional government-backed money, allows users and administrators alike to buy and sell illicit goods with relative anonymity. Subsequent enquiries located the Hansa market infrastructure in the Netherlands, with follow-up investigations by the Dutch police leading to the arrest of its two administrators in Germany and the seizure of servers in the Netherlands, Germany and Lithuania. "We will find and prosecute drug traffickers who set up shop there".

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AlphaBay, previously the internet's largest darknet site, went offline on July 5 and was already widely assumed to have been taken out by authorities.

At the DOJ news conference, an official with the Drug Enforcement Administration said the site fed the opioid epidemic in the U.S. by "supplying countless addicts with direct sales".

Those actions led to the arrest of Alexandre Cazes, the founder of AlphaBay.

Law enforcement authorities in the USA and overseas also seized millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin and other assets allegedly belonging to Cazes, including four Lamborghini cars and three properties.

The Justice Department on Thursday said it had shut down one of the largest so-called dark net markets, AlphaBay. Mr Cazes died in jail last week, apparently by taking his own life, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice. Day-to-day operations were run with the help of as many as ten anonymous employees who went by names that included "Disc0", "Trappy", "BigMuscles", "Botah", "Onionhood" and "MountainHigh9". Hansa was the third largest dark web market when it shut down.

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