Darkweb crack-down spurs digital refugee crisis


The FBI, DEA and Europol are celebrating the successful take-down of AlphaBay and Hansa, two of the Dark Web’s largest marketplaces. There are consequences for one marketplace closing, however, other Darkweb sites are finding significant spikes in membership, new vulnerabilities, and a wave of market saturation. In the week following the bust, similar sites saw their number of listings rise by as much as 28%, according to the BBC.

After Silk Road and its 2.0 version were taken down in 2013 and 2014, AlphaBay quickly emerged as the forerunner in its field and grew to be ten times its size according to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. When Alphabay went dark, it hosted 40,000 vendors, 200,000 users, and over 350,000 listings for illicit goods and services.

The Dark Web is accessed through Tor Hidden Protocol Service and is known for its sinister products – child porn, illegal drugs, sex workers, and even hit-men. Customers are attracted to such sites because the monetary exchange is untraceable using blockchain technologies to exchange crypto currency.

The movement of users and increased attention to such sites is being used as an opportunity to exploit and Phish new users. Additionally, this “refugee crisis” is causing a drop in product quality according to some customers.

This event has sparked an interesting debate about the ramifications of a seemingly desirable outcome for law enforcement. The joint operation to restrict interfaces enabling illegal activities was indeed a success, but demand does not disappear overnight. The Alphabay saga begs the question: what role should governments and business play in providing a safer internet experience on illicit sites? Or does an individual assume all the risk when engaging in illegal activity?

To make the story ever-more thriller-like, the 20-year-old Canadian founder of the site was found hanging in a Thai prison, spurring internet conspiracy theories, despite evidence of suicide. Federal agencies will continue to play whack-a-mole with these types of sites with the hopes of suffocating the illicit economy it facilitates. While the aim in shutting down these sites is to protect citizens from malware, dangerous drugs, identity theft and the like, there will continue to be a demand, and inevitably a supply elsewhere in the shadows of the internet.

By Kate Dinnison