This week, police announced the takedown of two of the dark web’s largest marketplaces for illegal goods: AlphaBay and its substitute, Hansa. Through a combination of online and conventional detective work, federal agents shut down these two hubs of criminal trade and arrested the major players involved. It’s a substantial blow to the dark web’s community of consumers, who had taken to AlphaBay, and then, Hansa, after Silk Road 2 went under.
Still, this kind of website can be extremely persistent, and authorities often find themselves playing a whack-a-mole game with the various sites. Among dark web experts, there’s a general consensus that there will only be more dark web marketplaces and subsequent takedowns to come.
Despite the sophistication of anonymity tools like Tor and Bitcoin, law enforcement’s best clues in this case seem to have been the result of criminal ineptitude. In December 2016, police discovered Alexandre Cazes, AlphaBay’s apparent creator, through his hotmail email address Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com, which was used to send out password recovery emails for AlphaBay. That email address was also found on a French tech troubleshooting website with Cazes’ full name. That led investigators to Cazes’ LinkedIn account, where he listed awfully familiar skills like website hosting and cryptography, making his prominence as a suspect in the case only continue to grow. Despite all the skills Cazes claimed to have on LinkedIn, his drug front company website, EBXtech.com, was “barely functional,” according to court documents; and EBX company bank records showed little to no income.