The investigation in question is being carried out in close cooperation with the police and judicial authorities in Germany, Lithuania, and the United States, and also with Europol. This week, a Hansa top-seller was arrested in Krimpen aan den IJssel, the Netherlands. Accounts with a total of more than 1,000 bitcoins, representing a value of some two million euros, were seized. The bitcoins were transferred to an account of the Public Prosecution Service.
The fall of Hansa Market is the final step of an undercover operation in which the Netherlands police seized control of the illegal market place in June of this year. This was made possible by the arrest of the two administrators of Hansa Market in Germany, aged 30 and 31. Since their arrest, the two men, from Siegen, NorthRhine-Westphalia, have been kept in pre-trial detention, and are only allowed to have contact with their lawyers.
It emerged that the underground market place was hosted on servers in Lithuania. Immediately after the arrest of the administrators, these servers and their corresponding infrastructure were seized and an exact copy of the market place was transferred to Dutch servers. Buyers and sellers could still access the darknet site, but without realizing the police and the public prosecution service in the Netherlands had seized control of Hansa.
Since the end of June, the High Tech Crime Team and the Darkweb Team of the police and the Public Prosecution Service have gained insight into large numbers of sellers and buyers, who traded chiefly in hard drugs. The usernames and passwords were intercepted. On average, 1,000 orders per day were placed in response to almost 40,000 advertisements. Last year, Hansa Market had 1,765 different sellers. Since the authorities seized control of Hansa Market there have been more than 50,000 transactions, mainly involving soft drugs and hard drugs.
In the past weeks, the police have intercepted tens of thousands of non-encrypted messages between sellers and buyers about orders. They were also able to identify the delivery address for a large number of orders. Some 10,000 foreign addresses of Hansa Market buyers were passed on to Europol. More than 500 Dutch delivery addresses were reported to couriers and postal services with the intention of stopping the deliveries.
The darknet markets enable large-scale trading in chiefly illegal goods, such as drugs, weapons, child pornography, and ransom software. Well-known examples of such market places are Silk Road (taken down by the FBI in 2013) and Alpha Bay (shut down within the framework of an international police operation earlier this month). No weapons or child pornography were sold on Hansa Market. After the FBI’s takedown of AlphaBay, Dutch authorities started to detect an increase in traffic towards Hansa This operation was meant to lure discontent customers from AlphaBay to other Dark Web marketplaces like Hansa. Since AlphaBay was taken down, the average of less than 1 000 vendors on Hansa per day, has risen to more than 8 000 per day.
Safe from detection
Sellers and buyers, and also administrators of illegal market places often believe they are safe from detection by the police and the judicial authorities. By carrying out criminal investigations into these criminals, and prosecuting them, it will become clear that the darkweb is not as anonymous as its users might think. The international cooperation between the Netherlands police, the Public Prosecution Service the FBI, Europol, and the authorities in Germany and Lithuania has seriously damaged the image of credibility and reliability of these market places. An important measure is the seizure of the servers on which the market places are hosted. A unique aspect of the investigation into Hansa Market was the fact that the police and the Public Prosecution Service seized control within the framework of an undercover operation. A wealth of information will be studied in the coming weeks.
As from today, people who visit Hansa Market see a splash page from the police that gives an explanation of the criminal investigation.