AlphaBay, until recently the biggest drug bazaar in the Tor network, suddenly went dark in July. The latest reports seem to indicate that it was the result of a concerted action of the law enforcement authorities of several countries.
Since SilkRoad no other entity has so strongly dominated the online drug dealing market. After the closure of SilkRoad, which paved the way for numerous successors, there were new bazaars aplenty, though none of them has operated as long nor has achieved as big a market share as SilkRoad. AlphaBay, launched in December 2014, carried about 300,000 illicit goods, services and substances (mainly drugs) towards the end of its existence. The site’s turnover was estimated at $600,000-800,000 per day, which given the owner’s mark-up of several percent, was without a doubt a real gold mine. Until early July 2017…
In the early days of July, AlphaBay’s servers went down. It came as a surprise for the users because that market, for one, gained recognition for very stable operation and downtimes had been announced with adequate notice. When after a day the servers were still down, the net went abuzz with speculations about the possible cause of that. The prevailing theme was the exit scam, meaning the shutdown of the site by the owner who absconds with user deposits. The clients, with fresh memories of similar events involving such markets as Evolution or Atlantis, to name a few, were clearly refusing to acknowledge the scenario in which AlphaBay has been taken down by the law enforcement authorities. This uncertainty lasted until July 14, 2017, when the rumours circulating for several days were confirmed. The Wall Street Journal announced that AlphaBay’s servers had been impounded by the Canadian law enforcement authorities on the FBI’s request and the alleged site owner had been detained in Thailand.
What we know about the shutdown of AlphaBay
The meagre information available seems to indicate that AlphaBay’s servers were located in Canada – in Montreal and Trois-Rivières. The machines were seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the FBI’s request on July 5. At the same time an Alexandre Cazes, Canadian citizen, who had been living in Thailand for 8 years, was arrested in Bangkok. The warrant for his arrest had allegedly been furnished on June 30 and preparations for its execution had taken several days. He was detained in his home (allegedly one of three) and with him, the police got their hands on a Lamborghini Aventador (or, as some sources claim, 4 similar vehicles).
Cazes was put in custody where he was to await deportation to the USA. In mid-July, he was found in his cell’s bathroom, hanged on a towel.
Cazes’ profile on LinkedIn matches both the suspect’s appearance and character.
Designing web applications and bespoke software for commercial entities as well as network configuration and hosting – sounds credible. Also the set of skills and qualifications indicate that he might have been the administrator of AlphaBay.
Consequences of the shutdown of AlphaBay
Just as after SilkRoad was taken down, the market descended into chaos. In the situation where no other marketplace had as significant a position as AlphaBay, other sites collapsed under the weight of new customers. Hansa Market suspended all new registrations claiming technical difficulties, Dream Market faced similar challenges and was unable to cope with the influx of new users. A good illustration of the market’s reaction is our chart of new registrations at Black Market Reloaded, which in the wake of SilkRoad’s disappearance was registering 5,000 new accounts per day (in spite of regular downtimes) and mind you – that was a couple of years ago when the popularity of this kind of sites was several times smaller than now.
Risks to buying drugs online
Even though it is safer to buy drugs online than in the street (no physical violence, there is a vendor reputation system enabling users to avoid low quality products), the whole business entails other risks. One punter published an e-mail which he found in his mailbox:
By the looks of things, one of the sellers whose services the punter used on AlphaBay, had saved the addresses of all his clients and sent them cards inviting them to his new account on Hansa Market. So if the seller falls in the hands of the law (and judging by this behaviour, there is every likelihood of that), all the clients will do too.
The close-down of AlphaBay was undoubtedly a positive event for some internet users – see the following post found on Reddit:
Certainly nobody should have any illusions – other sites will emerge in place of AlphaBay and the game of cat and mouse will continue for a long time ahead.