Digitally circumventing the laws of the land just got harder. Over the last week the FBI, DEA, and Europol took coordinated action to shut down and seize the operators of deep web markets, Alphabay and Hansa.
Arrests are underway for the creators and clients of these markets. Alphabay’s alleged founder was taken into custody and has been found hanged in his jail cell in Bangkok.
The internet facilitates all forms of human interaction, both constructive and illicit. On the dark net, one can go behind the curtains of state endorsed browsing to find the full potential of global connectivity. The range of activity of a dark net user could be as mundane as anonymous communication and networking but there is also room for full fledged human trafficing and the procurement of malicious hacking tools.
Black markets find a comfortable home behind onion routers and spoofed IP addresses but the US federal government almost always finds a way to nip burgeoning stateless markets at the root. Much like the notorious “Silk Road,” which was shut down twice in 2013, these cyber-markets facilitated the anonymous sale and distribution of anything from drugs, to fake documents, to guns.
To use the death of Silk Road as a road map for international stings, the capture of dark site operators will not be the end of this government crackdown. Many high profile users and dealers that have been using Alphabay and Hansa will likely face law enforcement as well. The US Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation are capable and adapt at seeking out and targeting individual vendors of illicit substances.
The dark net is actually much larger than the internet most are familiar with and has been for many years. In a, now, long outdated University of Michigan study from 2001, the information contained on deep web servers was estimated to be orders of magnitude grater than what appears through a standard search engine. Since the study, the breadth of the hidden internet has grown proportionally to the open internet. As more people are connected to the internet, more and more make use of it without playing by the rules of local governments.
Stings like these make deep net services appear riskier but no less profitable. Where there is a market, one will emerge.
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