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AlphaBay shut down by international law enforcement

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The mysterious shut-down of AlphaBay has been revealed to be the work of an international law enforcement effort, rather than the large-scale scam that was speculated by Twitter and Reddit users.

Canadian law enforcement seized AlphaBay’s servers in Quebec. Thailand authorities arrested one of the site’s operators, Canadian citizen Alexandre Cazes, in Thailand. The United States were seeking to extradite the criminal, but Cazes was later found dead in his cell in a Bangkok prison. The death is being treated as suicide.

AlphaBay, which had dominated the Dark Web for years, was a marketplace known for the trading of illicit drugs, stolen credit cards, weaponry and other contraband goods. It existed within the Dark Web, the network of sites which is only accessible through Tor, an anonymous web browser.

AlphaBay was hidden in the Dark Web, which made it difficult for authorities to access
The Dark Web is hidden far beneath the surface web, which we use every day (image: LinkedIn)

The site made anywhere from $600 000 to $800 000 each day via Bitcoin, an untraceable cryptocurrency.

The Dark Web is now in a state of chaos. AlphaBay “refugees” are moving rapidly to other marketplaces which are struggling to deal with the massive user influx. Some have even disabled registration temporarily.

AlphaBay was not a normal ‘website’, rather a hidden service which can only be accessed by Tor by design. Thus it was far more technically demanding than a website on the surface web. It’s not yet clear how authorities managed to shut down the marketplace. Its use of Tor and Bitcoin ought to have shielded buyers, sellers and admin alike from detection. This means either law enforcement have found a way to break through the Dark Web’s anonymity, or some sort of double agent was working with the company.

We know that much of our surface web activity is recorded and exploited. It will be interesting to see if this surveillance will reach the Dark Web on a more permanent scale – if it hasn’t already.