AlphaBay and Hansa, two of the largest marketplaces on the Tor network, which helps users browse the internet anonymously, have been taken offline as the result of an investigation by the United States, working with police in Europe.
AlphaBay went down unexpectedly earlier this month, prompting speculation among users that the site's founders had scammed them or been caught by law enforcement.
Hansa had been pinned down as having its market infrastructure in the Netherlands by Bitdefender, an internet security company that works with the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3). But on Thursday, European law enforcement revealed that a second darknet site known as Hansa had also been in police hands for the past month, an announcement deliberately created to sow panic among tech-savvy dealers and buyers.
"This case, pursued by dedicated agents and prosecutors, says you are not safe, you can not hide". You can not hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network.
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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.
It estimated there had been more than $1 billion (860 million euros) worth of transactions on the site since its creation in 2014.
AlphaBay's suspected founder, Alexandre Caze, was arrested earlier this month in Thailand at the request of US officials.
It facilitated the sale of illegal items, including drugs. It meant the Dutch police could identify and disrupt the regular criminal activity on Hansa but then also sweep up all those new users displaced from AlphaBay who were looking for a new trading platform.
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"In fact they flocked to Hansa in their droves, with an eight-fold increase in the number of new members of Hansa recorded immediately following the shutdown of AlphaBay", according to Europol. For comparison, Silk Road, the dark web site shut down in 2013, had about 14,000 listings for illegal products and services.
"The so-called anonymity of the dark web is illusory", said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the DEA. "We will find you".
As users are starting to congregate on Reddit to discover what is happening, Europol has released a confirmation of the market's downfall.
Canadian authorities determined the Hotmail account was registered to a man named Alexandre Cazes and discovered other instances of the Alpha02 handle online-including on a French language tech forum-registered to the Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com email address.
The website made $1 billion in sales before it was shut down in a joint operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Dutch police and Europol.
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