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Recent police action strikes a blow against illegal wheeling and dealing on the Dark Web

29 Aug 2017

The underground markets on the Dark Web have suffered a significant setback after the recent joint Operation Bayonet by the FBI and the Dutch police to take down the sites AlphaBay and Hansa Market from the net. This is the conclusion of the initial analysis by TNO cybersecurity experts. The results go beyond previous investigations to get illegal sites off the net whereby a big waterbed effect saw sellers quickly jump to a new Dark Web marketplace without there being much effective impact on overall sales.

To ascertain the initial impact of Operation Bayonet the TNO researchers studied the (new) users on a different underground marketplace, Dream Market, established at the end of 2013 and currently the leading marketplace on the Dark Web. This and steady growth since its establishment made this the perfect marketplace for the analysis. In theory, then, Dream Market should absorb the ‘blows’ dealt by this police action.

Track record, reputation and customer base evaporated

However, suppliers on the vanquished sites AlphaBay and Hansa Market  don’t seem to have moved to Dream Market just like that, as suggested by previous actions. Many have taken precautionary protective measures such as changing their usernames and/or PGP key, but many have also started, and are starting, from scratch, losing their track record, reputation and customer base in one go. Compare it to a Michelin-star restaurant that suddenly, and unannounced, changes its name, location, website and phone number: clientele will shun it until a new reputation has been built up.

Operation Bayonet

During this summer’s Operation Bayonet two leading underground marketplaces on the Dark Web were the focus of a joint intervention by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National High Tech Crime and Dark Web unit of the Dutch Police Force. A coordinated action saw the FBI succeed in acquiring and then taking down AlphaBay, while the Dutch police acquired Hansa Market and kept it going for a while before taking it down.

By planning these actions in sequence, the police expect the criminals that were active on AlphaBay would find their way to Hansa Market. Given that the Dutch police controlled this site at that moment, the police were in the perfect position not only to disrupt the ecosystem but also to gather valuable data on thousands of users.

Conclusion

This new tactic by the FBI and National Police Force is likely to bear fruit for the foreseeable future. We still have to determine whether this innovative intervention will be impactful in the longer term but for the time being, the effects have proven remarkable in the light of previous Dark Web interventions.

The results of this initial TNO analysis have been summarised in a factsheet.

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