Dismantling of a major Russian “darknet” platform

The “taller” sales platform “dark net” market, called “Hydra Market” and operating in Russian since 2015, was dismantled and bitcoins worth 23 million euros seized, German justice announced on Tuesday. “The servers of the largest darknet market in the world have been seized and 543 bitcoins with a total value of approximately 23 million euros have been secured”according to a press release from the Frankfurt Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).

The “darknet” is a parallel version of the Internet, where the anonymity of users is guaranteed. Investigators suspect that the “Hydra Market” platform, which has approximately 17 million customers, is being used for criminal activity and money laundering through more than 19,000 merchant accounts. In 2020 alone, the “Hydra Market” platform generated at least €1.23 billion in sales, making the “the illegal market with the highest turnover in the world”, the press release said. The Russian-language site accessible through the Tor network was mainly used for drug trafficking, stolen data and forged documents. A banner was placed on the Hydra website on Tuesday announcing the seizure by the police.

Cybercrime, “A Global Threat”

An advanced service called the “bitcoin bank mixer”, served to hide digital financial transactions with cryptocurrencies, making the investigation much more difficult, the BKA underlines. The investigations started in 2021, but the identities of the operators and administrators responsible for the platform are currently unclear. The operation was conducted in conjunction with US authorities. “Together with our German partners, we have conquered the infrastructure of the largest darknet market in the world, but our work is not yet finished”noted US Attorney General Merrick Garland and pledged to continue tracking down criminals operating on the “dark web” (another name for the “darknet”).

The US justice system has already indicted a Russian citizen, Dimitri Pavlov, 30, who is accused of operating servers used to operate Hydra. He is charged with drug trafficking and organized money laundering. The US Treasury Department also announced economic sanctions against Hydra, as well as the virtual currency exchange Garantex. Otherwise, “more than 100 addresses” recipients of funds in Hydra-related cryptocurrency transactions and “used to carry out illegal transactions”have been identified.

This promotion is for sending “a message to criminals, you can’t hide on the darknet or their forums, and you can’t hide in Russia or anywhere in the world,” noted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, quoted in the press release, referring to: “the global threat of cybercrime and ransomware originating in Russia”. The German authorities had already dismantled the ‘DarkMarket’ platform in early 2021, then presented by researchers as the main selling point in the cyber black market. This operation sparked a worldwide crackdown a few months later that led to the arrest of some 150 people who bought or sold drugs or weapons.

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