The fall of AlphaBay

July 28, 2017 Crime , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Security , Technology

By

Ricardo Swire

 

Early in July 2017 the mysterious website AlphaBay went “dark.” Intelligence and law enforcement analysts recognized an “Exit Scam,” a ploy used by criminal minded cyber operators who suddenly close down their websites and abscond with accumulated Bitcoins or cash. During 2016 the anonymous AlphaBay owner errored when he exposed the Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com address.

The data was enough for law enforcement to connect the dots. As part of AlphaBay’s mechanics when a user initiates the “Password Recovery Process” the website’s administrator email address is displayed. This address similar to one used by AlphaBay’s mastermind in the past, to post virus removal advice on a tech forum at age seventeen. As a teenager he also incorporated EBX Technologies, a front company that sold software and repaired computers. EBX Technologies actually transacted digital currency business on the Dark Net.

Prior to the AlphaBay owner’s Hotmail address blunder his website was a hidden service on the Tor network. The Dark Net operator utilized cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Monero and Ethereum, to hide the locations of AlphaBay’s underlying servers, identities of administrators, moderators and clients. AlphaBay laundered hundreds of millions of dollars derived from illegal transactions. In January 2017 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), started a joint criminal probe.

A RCMP Chief Superintendent lamented local cyber-criminals have been shielded by websites resembling AlphaBay proxies. On July 5, 2017 a US State Department coordinated multi-agency taskforce of American, Canadian and Thai law enforcers raided specific residences in Quebec Canada. Simultaneously, Royal Thai Police officers detained the shadowy twenty-five year old Canadian AlphaBay owner in Thailand where he has lived for eight years.

When Royal Thai Police raided the Canadian’s Bangkok residence his personal laptop computer was found in the bedroom, unlocked and logged in as AlphaBay’s administrator. A week after his arrest and shortly before extradition to America AlphaBay’s owner was found dead in his jail cell. Official Thai reports claimed the Canadian used a towel to hang himself from the toilet stall’s door. The Canadian was indicted by American law enforcement on sixteen criminal counts that include racketeering, narcotics conspiracy and money laundering.

In addition to his alternative nationality provided by Antigua & Barbuda’s Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) and acquired beach front property on the Caribbean island, the Canadian’s net value is pegged at US$23 million. His assets include one Lamborghini Aventador, one Porsche Panamera, one Mini Cooper and one BMW motorcycle. AlphaBay’s creator holds accounts with four Thai banks, plus Alpinum AG in Liechtenstein and Bitcoin Suisse AG in Baar, Switzerland. He was about to acquire Cypriot citizenship by spending €2.4 million or US$3.5million to buy a villa in Famagusta, a quaint port on Cyprus’ east coast when arrested.

AlphaBay was the largest Tor concealed drug trafficking website since Silk Road. Ten employees ensured service provision to two hundred and fifty thousand users and forty thousand vendors. For two years the innovative virtual market featured as top Dark Web distributor. AlphaBay listed over one hundred thousand stolen or bogus identification documents, access devices, counterfeit products, hacking tools, guns and toxic chemicals. Users were charged between two and four percent commission on each transaction. On July 19, 2017 the FBI and DEA seized AlphaBay’s crypto-currency worth millions of dollars. An American civil forfeiture action chases the Canadian owner’s assets in Thailand, Cyprus, Lichtenstein and Antigua & Barbuda.

 

 

 

 

Ricardo Swire - Tuck Magazine

Ricardo Swire

Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.

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