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Two weeks have passed since the confirmed takedowns of underground marketplaces AlphaBay and Hansa. As the two giants are laid to rest one can only anticipate when and where the next big takedown will be. Even more, is law enforcement already lying in wait?
Underground marketplaces have exploded in popularity as a means to acquire illegal goods and services ranging from drugs, weapons, child pornography, stolen bank account credentials, operating system vulnerabilities, credit report alterations, and so on. AlphaBay, the largest underground marketplace, boasted a massive 40,000 vendors and 200,000 customers – 10 times the size of the infamous Silk Road. In early July, AlphaBay was shut down by the FBI.
Immediately after the AlphaBay takedown, fellow giant Hansa Market saw an 800% growth from 1,000 to 8,000 daily transactions. Over the past few years, Hansa gained its reputation in the community as a safe, reliable marketplace. Naturally, it became home to many of AlphaBay’s lost souls.
What users didn’t know is that Dutch-based law enforcement had seized a Hansa server and had been running the site as an undercover operation since June 20th. FBI, Europol, Lithuanian-, German-, and Dutch-based law enforcement collaborated as they watched traffic flock into Hansa Market, sweeping up users’ personal information in the process. By mid-July, Hansa was confirmed down.
The world of underground marketplaces has never been without an array of risks. Customers and vendors alike are well aware of its dangers. These dangers include hacking attacks (like the one which caused Silk Road 3’s bankruptcy in mid-July) to large-scale exit scams. The largest exit scam in recent history took place in 2015 at Evolution Marketplace, where owners Kimble and Verto scammed its massive user base and ran off with ~$12,000,000 in bitcoin.
Currently, Dream Market holds the title as the largest active underground marketplace with almost 100,000 current listings. Whether or not law enforcement is already lying in wait, only time will tell. Meanwhile, users from the AlphaBay and Hansa Market takedowns continue to be monitored (and in some cases arrested).
With the additional – and very real – threat of collaborative international law enforcement, will vendors and buyers turn to alternative mediums such as underground forums? Or will they count their blessings and stay on-course, jumping from ship to ship? AW, former owner of Silk Road 3, writes in his goodbye letter “…I will retire. I cannot handle all this anymore.”