WHEN ALPHABAY, THE world’s largest dark web bazaar, went offline two weeks ago, it threw the darknet into chaos as its buyers and sellers scrambled to find new venues. What those dark web users didn't—and couldn't—know: That chaos was planned. Dutch authorities had already seized Hansa, another another major dark web market, the previous month. For weeks, they operated it as usual, quietly logging the user names, passwords, and activities of its visitors–including a massive influx of Alphabay refugees.
On Thursday, Europol and the US Department of Justice jointly announced the fruits of the largest-ever sting operation against the dark web's black markets, including the seizure of AlphaBay, a market Europol estimates generated more than a billion dollars in sales of drugs, stolen data, and other illegal goods over its three years online. While Alpabay’s closure had previously been reported as an FBI operation, the agency has now confirmed that takedown, while Europol also revealed details of its tightly coordinated Hansa takeover.
With Hansa also shuttered as of Thursday, the dark web looks substantially diminished from just a few short weeks ago—and its denizens shaken by law enforcement's deep intrusion into their underground economy.
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