AlphaBay, a Dark Web marketplace for illegal drugs and other underground goods, has been down since early last week. Now, it appears the cause of the shutdown was an international effort from law enforcement that nabbed one of the site’s operators, a Canadian citizen named Alexandre Cazes, while he was in Thailand, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal published yesterday. Thailand authorities cooperated with both the US and Canada to make the arrest, with the US leading the charge on extradition.
AlphaBay was largely considered the largest and most lucrative underground marketplace on the Dark Web, a colloquial shorthand term for the network of sites accessible only through the anonymity-preserving web browser Tor. AlphaBay rose in prominence after the shuttering of the Silk Road in 2013 and arrest of its operator, Ross Ulbricht, who lost his appeal in May and is currently serving a life sentence. Other Dark Web marketplaces are now dealing with the sudden influx of new users, with some temporarily disabling registrations and referring to the eager online drug buyers as AlphaBay “refugees.”
Cazes, who was arrested by Thailand authorities on July 5th, the same day AlphaBay went down, was found dead in his cell due to apparent suicide, according to Canada’s foreign affairs department. Members of the high-technology crime division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are currently searching Cazes’ apartment in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, and have claimed at least some of the site’s servers, opening the possibility that other AlphaBay operators may be swept up in the investigation pending what the cybercrime unit is able to recover.
In addition to drugs, AlphaBay made a significant chunk of its revenue enabling the sale of stolen credit card numbers, as well as firearms. The company apparently made anywhere between $600,000 and $800,000 a day, according to Dark Web researcher and Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Nicolas Christin. Many online watchers of bitcoin and Dark Web marketplaces speculated that AlphaBay’s operators had just pulled off a massive fraud, stealing millions of dollars of the cryptocurrency and running off, as other Dark Web site operators have done in the past. However, it appears the truth is that law caught up to AlphaBay, just as it did the Silk Road before it.