The Department Of Justice Is Cracking Down On Dark Net Markets

Nearly four years after the Fed shut down The Silk Road, Sessions nabs two more dark net markets.

Alphabay, the world’s largest dark net marketplace (DNM)––online bazaars where people from all over the world trade cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin for drugs, weapons, stolen data, and other nefarious goods––was taken down this month by law enforcement officials. The seizure comes nearly four years after the Federal Bureau of Investigation shut down the first DNM, The Silk Road, which served as a blueprint for others to copy. And this comes just months after Silk Road creator Ross William Ulbricht (known online as Dread Pirate Roberts) lost an appeal for his sentence of two life terms in federal prison without the possibility of parole.

According to a release from federal officials, Alphabay’s head honcho, 25-year-old Alexandre Cazes (AKA Alpha02), committed suicide. 

“On July 5, Alexandre Cazes aka Alpha02 and Admin, 25, a Canadian citizen residing in Thailand, was arrested by Thai authorities on behalf of the United States for his role as the creator and administrator of AlphaBay. On July 12, Cazes apparently took his own life while in custody in Thailand. . . Around the time of takedown, there were over 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals on AlphaBay, and over 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms and fraudulent services..”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which led the seizure, Alphabay operated as a forum for online criminals and drug dealers for two years before being shut down. And much like Ulbricht, when Cazes arrested, he was reportedly logged into the site on his laptop computer, granting law enforcement unfettered access to Alphabay’s servers, financial information, and user data.

Indeed, the seizure is another example of the swift and decisive action, based on the strong anti-drug stance held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in a statement concerning Cazes' arrest and the Alphabay takedown, seemingly gloated in his success.

“This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year––taking down the largest dark net marketplace in history,” said Sessions in a DOJ-issued statement.

“Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity using the dark net,” Sessions warned. “The dark net is not a place to hide.”

Another one of the world’s most frequented dark net markets, Hansa, was seized and subsequently shut down by Dutch law enforcement officials.

According to the New York Times, “the Dutch national police announced that they had taken control of Hansa Market in June and had been operating the site since then, monitoring the vendors and customers and gathering identifying details on those involved in the 50,000 transactions that took place.”

A major motivating factor for the crackdown on DNMs is the worldwide opioid crisis, as many of Alphabay and Hansa’s vendors were openly slanging synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which can be up to 100 times stronger than pure heroin.

Though the seizures represent a considerable victory for law enforcement, global dark net usage is trending up. And if we’re to learn anything from the case of Ross William Ulbricht and the Silk Road, it’s that the next round of DNMs will only be bigger, harder to access, and more secure than before, which will only attract a larger number of users, buyers, and sellers. 

According to the DOJ, Alphabay was 10 times larger than the Silk Road in regard to the volume of transactions and number of active drug vendors and buyers.