July 20, 2017

Trump administration helps shutter massive online crime market

The Trump administration and international partners have taken down the largest marketplace for illegal goods on a shadowy section of the internet known as the "dark web."

The marketplace, AlphaBay, at one point had 200,000 users and 40,000 sellers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a press conference in Washington. In early 2017, more than 100 sellers offered the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and 238 offered heroin.

Sessions said that AlphaBay sales had been traced to multiple opioid deaths in the United States.

"You are not safe," Sessions told cyber criminals during his press conference. "You cannot hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network, and we will prosecute you."

AlphaBay relied on the hard-to-trace digital currency bitcoin to sell products and operated through the dark web, a collection of sites that require special software to access. This software passes users' connections through a series of relays to disguise their location, which makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track and identify them.

The marketplace went offline on the evening of July 4. The next day, Thai police arrested a Canadian man named Alexandre Cazes, who allegedly helped run the site. He died in Thai custody one week later, but he was expected to be extradited to the United States to face charges.

In the operation that took down AlphaBay and a second dark web vendor, Hansa Market, DOJ worked with authorities in Thailand, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Lithuania, along with officials at the international police group Europol.

"Disrupting and dismantling dark websites is a priority for the Department of Justice, and international coordination is critical for our success," said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Authorities arrested the operators of both dark-web markets and seized "extensive" evidence, Rosenstein said. Dutch authorities moved against the suspected administrators of Hansa Market on Thursday, after secretly seizing control of the site to monitor the influx of new users who flocked to it from AlphaBay.

DOJ said in a fact sheet that it knew of "hundreds" of dark web markets that sold illegal material, including child pornography and stolen financial information.

"Many of these sites are the subject of investigations both in the United States and abroad," it said.

AlphaBay was by far the largest such site, with a user base 10 times larger than the infamous Silk Road market. Robert Patterson, the deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said AlphaBay sales generated $1 billion in proceeds throughout its existence.

"This is a landmark operation," said acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

The AlphaBay takedown is just the latest in a string of successful global cyber operations for law enforcement.

The Justice Department has also worked with international partners to dismantle the massive Kelihos botnet— which powered spam campaigns and digital broadsides on websites that overwhelmed their servers—and to arrest and extradite one of the four men charged with hacking into online giant Yahoo.

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