Skip to navigationSkip to content
DARK WEB

Police had been controlling a major online black market for the past month, authorities say

By Keith Collins

The US Department of Justice announced on Thursday that AlphaBay, the world’s largest online black market, was seized and shut down after its creator was arrested in Thailand on July 5. The alleged creator and administrator of the website, 25-year-old Canadian resident Alexandre Cazes, committed suicide one week after being taken into custody.

AlphaBay was about 10 times the size of Silk Road, the infamous dark web marketplace that US authorities shut down in 2013 after arresting its creator, who was later convicted and given two life sentences. Dark web marketplaces are auction websites where users buy and sell illegal goods like drugs, guns, stolen identities and credit cards, and hacking tools.

Users of such marketplaces use digital currencies like bitcoin and monero to buy and sell anonymously, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in its announcement that it had seized “millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrencies” from the site. That was likely money the site had held in escrow to assist in the exchange of illegal goods.

The announcement from the DOJ coincided with one from the Dutch National Police that appeared on the Hansa Market website, a dark web marketplace many AlphaBay users migrated to after the latter went offline earlier this month. According to the message, Dutch authorities had taken control of the Hansa Market a month ago, on June 20, and had been monitoring its users ever since.

“The Dutch National Police have located Hansa Market and taken over control of this marketplace since June 20, 2017,” the message says. “We have modified the source code, which allowed us to capture passwords, PGP-encrypted order information, IP-Addresses, Bitcoins and other relevant information that may help law enforcement agencies worldwide to identify users of this marketplace.”

According to documents released by the DOJ, Cazes was using his computer and logged into AlphaBay under his administrator account at the time of his arrest. Because of the anonymous nature of the dark web, this was likely essential in connecting Cazes to the crimes he allegedly committed using that account. When investigating the creator of Silk Road in 2013, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation took pains to wait until he was using his computer and logged into the website at the moment agents arrested him.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.