The infamous AlphaBay dark web marketplace has reemerged four years after U.S. authorities shut it down in a widely-publicized law enforcement operation.
At its prime, AlphaBay raked in a reported $1 billion in darknet transactions involving drugs, weapons, hacking tools, and other illicit wares. The platform was employed by thousands of sellers who connected with an excess of 200,000 buyers across the world.
Historical records indicate that AlphaBay was a favorite among money launderers looking to conceal criminal proceeds. The marketplace grew to become the largest online darknet market, surpassing Silk Road by up to ten times in selling volumes.
In mid-2017, law enforcement agencies from the U.S. and Europe, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Europol and the Dutch National police, collaborated in dismantling the website.
The internationally-coordinated law enforcement operation led to seizure of the AlphaBay servers that involved the law enforcement agencies in Thailand, Lithuania, Canada, UK and France. The takedown was also followed by the arrest of AlphaBay founder Alexandre Cazes who would later take his own life while in police custody.
The Unprecedented Return
According to a Flashpoint report, an online posting appears to confirm the return of AlphaBay – an online user claiming to be one of the platform’s moderators asserted the re-emergence of the site back on the dark web scene.
Quite obviously, the new AlphaBay seeks to outcompete its older version through a number of strategies. The market’s servers will now be hosted with proven “bulletproof” hosting services. It turns out that the platform admins will enforce strict policies in ensuring that they block out countries that may compromise user data.
The marketplace has also planted its administrative structure in non-extradition countries to prevent the repeat of past experiences where operators were targeted by foreign law enforcement agencies.
According to a Dread forum post by the user /u/DeSnake who identified themselves as an administrator, AlphaBay’s return ushers in a new era of dark web experience through a number of critical changes.
It turns out that administrators of the new AlphaBay are similar to those that operated the marketplace between the year 2014 and 2017. In /u/DeSnake’s submission, the new site promises mature management, high cybersecurity, and round-the-clock skilled staff to ensure favorable user experience.Figure 1: Screenshot of the online forum post by a user claiming to be an AlphaBay administrator.
Among these changes includes the decision by the platform owners to embark on a decentralized marketplace project. The post appealed to its audience to join in helping fund the project by simply using the AlphaBay website.
The decentralized market project will ensure that all markets and vendors operate in a more healthy environment – the intervention is touted to solve the majority of the longstanding issues around darknet market experiences, including wallet safety and resource accessibility (anti-DDoS).
Importantly, the account /d/AlphaBay shared a list of top features that may appeal to the new generation of AlphaBay users.
The AlphaGuard feature will protect all user wallets in the context of ensuring that third party raids do not affect their crypto holdings – the new operators promise that the feature is designed to prevail even in the context of server seizure.
In addition, the AlphaGuard will enable smooth dispute resolution, escrow functionality and money withdrawals whenever users experience difficulty and the admins are unavailable. Overall, AlphaBay operators assert that the new platform has a monitoring and security system for ensuring online stability and security.
Apart from the AlphaGuard Wallet Protection and the Automatic Dispute Resolution features, the re-emerged market promised users the Vendor Shared Account Access in promoting a new user experience.
The announcement underscored the fact that AlphaBay will now be accepting payments in Monero cryptocurrency – one of the dark web’s most preferred cryptocurrencies. The new AlphaBay will be accessible on both I2P and Tor anonymous networks as a darknet prerequisite to help users stay clear of the law enforcement radar.
Further, according to /u/DeSnake, the long list of dark web market features will also include a forum section for supporting user discussions on various topics. The forum will also be accompanied by the reboot of a private malware sub-community.
The AlphaBay administrator claims that the feature will be used by site admins to share an updated source code for a notable banking Trojan – normally used for harvesting banking credentials – to popularize the re-launch.
Cybersecurity analysts have been scrambling to report on the latest developments. It appears that a host of other cybercriminals with links to AlphaBay have published information online to confirm the authenticity of /u/DeSnake as one of the original operators of the first version of the AlphaBay platform.
Nonetheless, Flashpoint researchers uncovered potential fears concerning the true intentions /u/DeSnake in reporting the return of AlphaBay. They went on to reveal that a forum administrator known by the alias “Paris” was skeptical about the administrator’s motive, which could mean that the administrator was probably compromised by the police.
The return of AlphaBay has raised a lot of questions concerning the timing of the event with current dark web events. First, the poor state of the dark web market scene is a top reason for reemergence of the marketplace by operators looking to restore the lost glory of the dark web.
Second, the events leading to closure of the previous version of AlphaBay appears to be an important motivation. The law enforcement activities, including arrests, indictments, and jail sentences, may have driven the admins to “find justice” by reinventing their platform.
This notion is built on past allegations by a section of the dark web community that a former AlphaBay founder was a case of extrajudicial killing rather than the reported suicide. The millions of dollars that have been lost by dark web operators to law enforcement operations may planted a seed of rebellion in the minds of the new AlphaBay admins.