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How a Hotmail address gave away the web’s largest drug market

AlphaBay and Hansa, two of the largest illegal drug markets on the so-called dark web, were raided and shut down by international police operations, the BBC reports.

Alleged AlphaBay founder Alexandre Cazes was arrested in Thailand earlier this month, found with a laptop open and logged in to the site, enabling authorities to access the site’s servers and records, according to the New York Times. A researcher who spoke to Motherboard estimated that AlphaBay—launched in December 2013 after the demise of the Silk Road—was pulling in a revenue of between $600,000 and $800,000 a day in 2017.

Last week, Cazes, 25, was found dead in his jail cell in Bangkok, reported to have hanged himself, on the same day he was scheduled to meet with a lawyer about extradition to the U.S. A Canadian citizen listed on LinkedIn as a “freelance software designer,” Cazes was identified, the government says, because he welcomed users to the site with a message that included a personal email address, “Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com.” It was the use of a personal email address that also helped lead authorities to Ross Ulbright, the founder of the Silk Road, in 2013. 

After AlphaBay shut down last month, users flocked to other marketplaces only accessible through the encrypted Tor service, including Dream Market, which launched in 2013 (current listings include 57,000 for drugs and 4,000 for opioids), and Hansa. After the arrest of two Hansa staff members in Germany, Dutch police seized the site in June, monitoring traffic there—and some “10,000 foreign addresses of buyers”—ever since. “Critics will say, as we shut one site, another site emerges,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a press event led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “And they may be right, but that is the nature of criminal work: It never goes away, you have to constantly keep at it, and you’ve got to use every tool in your toolbox.”

Just two days ago, Hansa announced it was banning the sale of fentanyl, which has been blamed for a surge in opioid deaths in the U.S. But as I reported last year, acquiring the synthetic drug and others like it doesn’t always require Tor: For years, Chinese labs have openly sold “research chemicals” on the open web

[Photo: WaltiGoehner via Pixabay]SM