The Czech Republic’s National Drug Headquarters have shut down a Tor-based social network called Atlayo. The authorities also seized the platform’s search engine “Atlayo Search” that was reportedly responsible for facilitating the sale of banned substances and psychotropic drugs.
Czech law enforcement confirmed the seizure by posting a banner on the site’s homepage. The information conveyed by the banner appears to give credit to both Danish and Czech police. It intimated that a joint investigation resulted in the domain shutdown after agents established the significance of Atlayo’s role in illicit commerce.
Darknet and Surface Web Sites Integrated with Social Media Storefronts
A Danish media outfit reported that Atlayo was hosted on one of the biggest domain registrars in the country.
As described by a blog post about intrigues of the darknet ecosystem, Atlayo was designed to operate as a social media platform on Tor.
Just like many other sites operating on the Tor network, Atlayo was created with the interests of free speech and user anonymity in mind. A significant feature of the platform was its striking similarity to peer social media websites in the dark web.
The Atlayo User Interface resembled that of Facebook, and the platform provided users with the option of joining various kinds of discussion groups. In addition to a video upload functionality, the website allowed users to interact with other members of the social network.
Otherwise, Altayo’s main distinguishing feature could be observed in the nature of user registrations conducted by the platform, and the range of content that was covered by members. The majority of Atlayo user accounts were opened with pseudonyms, and users’ interests appeared to be concentrated around topics concerning cybercrime and lawlessness.
Atlayo was accessible via Tor through the onion address atlayofke5rqhsma.onion and on the surface web via atlayo.com. At this point, the onion address is inaccessible while the surface web platform has been immobilized to only display a seizure banner by law enforcement.
A seizure banner on the Atlayo homepage after law enforcement took control of the site. (Source: Atlayo)
According to Danish authorities, the Facebook-like social network groups created by Atlayo users served as storefronts for a large number of online drug vendors. An inspector from Copenhagen’s special investigative unit reported that Atlayo users bought a total of 4.5kg of cocaine, 3kg of MDMA, 5kg of methamphetamine, 3,500 ecstasy pills and 40kg of cannabis.
Furthermore, “Atlayo Search” was a search engine designed to meet various darknet needs. Users were allowed to conduct basic online searches to find .onion websites. The author of the aforementioned blog post highlighted a rather interesting aspect – the Atlayo search engine had embedded a feature that would list popular searches conducted by dark web users, an aspect that differentiated the tool from other Tor search engines.
It is reported that a number of online users had strong opposition towards the type of material that Atlayo Search index. The objection led a group of hackers to attack the platform way before law enforcement seized the search engine.
Arrests and Further Investigations
The police apprehended two suspects in connection with the establishment and operation of the Atlayo social network. The individuals faced are currently in police custody as the police have embarked on locating a third suspect in connection with the investigation.
In addition, law enforcement agencies in Denmark have been targeting Atlayo users for drug crime crimes. So far, seven users have been apprehended since early 2020 and a full probe into the Tor social network’s user base is underway.
Observers have noted that the Atlayo case is a unique law enforcement undertaking within Danish law enforcement circles – it is the first-ever drug-related darknet seizure by the police in Denmark. Previously, the authorities have executed successful operations against .onion sites specializing in child sex abuse material.