US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced a war against criminal activity using the dark web. “You cannot hide,” he said, “We will find you.”
Thanks to his endearing Alabama accent and his use of terms like “dark web place take down”, which, let’s be honest, sounds like his grandson gave him a quick five minute dark web rundown beforehand, Sessions does not give the impression of a cyber force to fear.
However, a collaboration between a number of foreign governments has successfully brought down two of the biggest markets on the dark web within the past month.
On July 5, authorities announced the takedown of Alphabay, the largest ever shut down in dark web history. Following on from our previous report on this case, new information has emerged detailing the seizure of Alphabay’s main competitor, Hansa.
Dutch National Police took control of the site the 20th of June following the arrest of two men in Germany along with the seizure of servers in Germany, The Netherlands and Lithuania. For the next month, officials maintained operation of the market for “the covert monitoring of criminal activities on the platform” until it was shut down yesterday.
As we discussed in the previous article, the implications of the largest site being taken down are huge, with a massive ripple effect on competing sites as well as on customers. Now, in light of this new information, the events that will follow from this will be even more interesting for multiple reasons.
Firstly, customer faith in these markets will have taken a huge hit. After the shutdown of Alphabay, we saw a colossal spike in users migrating to Hansa. Now it is clear that Hansa has also been compromised, users are understandably starting to freaking out. Since the announcement of both sites being seized, Reddit has exploded with activity.
While some posts have given advice for alternative sites to use, many users are planning on taking a low profile for a while. One of the main posts titled “Hey r*tards” is urging users not to discuss any dark web activity due to the recent events and one user MrNi1ce has openly stated “I would not buy anything at the moment”. Clearly, the fear that sweet Southern Mr Sessions wanted to stir up, has been working as planned.
Additionally, it will be interesting to see how the markets react. There are still sites such as Dream Market, Trade Route Market and Wall Street Market which are still conducting business as usual, as far as we know. However, the ability to wipe all of these markets of the web is nearly impossible. This presents one of the most interesting aspects of this whole situation.
The US government has declared war on these sites, and these sites will just keep popping up due to the insane amount of money they produce and the problems surround the anonymity of these criminals. Essentially we have an unstoppable force against an unmovable object.
Therefore, the real goal for authorities isn’t necessarily to bring these sites down but to put people behind bars. If they are able to send a message by locking a few of the top sites ringleaders away it sends a message to other sites.
The intense focus on bring down these sites is apparently fueled by America’s growing concern of an opioid epidemic.
“We know of several Americans who were killed by drugs on AlphaBay,” said Sessions. He also added, “One victim was just 18 years old when in February she overdosed on a powerful synthetic opioid which she had bought on AlphaBay.”
Truth be told, we won’t be able to understand the impact of these events until further down the line. In many ways it could have a damaging effect on users and suppliers, sending them into hiding, or they could up their game and put more effort into covering their tracks.
After all, following the shutdown of the original dark web kingpin, Silk Road, Alphabay became its successor on a much larger scale. In the drug market, where there is a demand, there is a supplier.