The Dark Side of the Net
Since the advent of the Internet, the world wide web has become an open marketplace. Businesses, personal, and social networking sites have appeared online. There are websites that are openly available to the public and there are websites that, for security reasons, their contents are not indexed by search engines. Good examples are online banking and payment facilities. They are called the deep web.
However, there’s a part of the deep web that created a bad reputation of its own. It’s called the dark web. (Take note of the difference.) This part of the web is composed of sites that prefer to hide in secrecy through a specific software, configuration, or authorized access. Most of these are illegal businesses trying not to be trailed by search engines. People could buy anything illegal anonymously.
This was the concept of the Silk Road created by Ross Ulbricht a.k.a. Dread Pirate Roberts. But after the downfall of the Silk Road in 2013, other underground websites tried to fill in the shoes Ulbricht left behind.
Last July 2017, two large darknet marketplaces were taken down.
AlphaBay, created by Alexandre Cazes, was ten times larger than Silk Road. Before it was taken down, it reached over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. Authorities estimated that around $1B worth of digital currencies flowed in and out of this site since 2014. It facilitated illegal activities like drug trafficking and the sale of stolen personal and financial information, firearms and malware. Authorities have learned their lessons from Silk Road so they pooled their intelligence networks and cooperated in the capture of site administrators. Alexandre Cazes made a fatal mistake when he used his personal email to reset his password, compounding the error by using the same email on LinkedIn and to run a legal business. On 5 July 2017, Cazes was arrested in Thailand and AlphaBay was taken down. However, Alexandre Cazes died in custody in Thailand a week later.
Hansa was ranked the third largest underground marketplace. It operated just like AlphaBay. In fact, after the takedown of AlphaBay, Hansa grew eight times larger. However, unknown to its users, the site has been under surveillance by the Dutch operatives since June when two of its operators were arrested.
The takedown of these two websites has shut the two large dark web marketplaces. Authorities now investigates the “money” trail if it underwent the money laundering process into the legit economy. The concerted effort of authorities, from the FBI, to the DEA, and the Interpol and Europol, shows the sophistication and willingness of the international community to combat cybercrimes.