Dutch police takes down international dark web market

The Dutch police take down illegal dark web trading site Hansa, 20 Jul 2017
The Dutch police take down illegal dark web trading site Hansa, 20 Jul 2017. (Photo: Politie)

The Dutch police, in cooperation with the FBI, took down an international illegal market on the dark web, the police announced in a statement on Thursday. A large number of traders of drugs, jewels and counterfeit goods were arrested, NOS reports.

Early last month the Canadian, American and Thai authorities took down illegal trading place Alphabay. After that many users turned to Hansa, which was now taken down by the Dutch police. That seems to have been part of the plan, because the police managed to track down traders and buyers by keeping the site running for a month.

According to Wilbert Paulissen, head of detectives at the police, the purpose of this action was to catch as many perpetrators as possible, but also to make clear that "you should not buy drugs on the internet". 

The authorities initially thought that the site was hosted in the Netherlands but it turned out to be in Lithuania. "We moved the website secretly to the Netherlands to keep an eye on it", Paulissen said, according to NOS. "That way we could see everything that happens on the website." The site was moved in cooperation with the Lithuanian authorities.

A large number of drug dealers were arrested, including at least four in the Netherlands. "We even had to stop new signups because there were so many new users", Paulissen said. "And users trusted us, but we made adjustments to find out their identity."

The Dutch police kept the site online for 27 days. "Then we decided it was enough", Martijn Egberts of the Public Prosecutor said. "We already gathered so much information that we decided to take the site off the air." 

Messages on Hansa were encrypted, but the police removed the encryption. "From that moment on we were able to read everything that was sent through the site", Egberts said. In that way the police could, for example, see a delivery address for a package of drugs. User passwords were also intercepted, and those will be saved. "We were able to intercept a lot of information, and how we use it exactly we will keep to ourselves for now." 

A number of arrests were made in a number of countries, though how many exactly is unclear. "It is also a start of further investigations", Paulissen said. "The 500 Dutch who bought drugs through the site have our interests."

The question is whether the police were allowed to do this. According to the police, they were because this was an infiltration action. The police and judiciary took note as soon as a large party of drugs was traded through the site. Detectives immediately searched where it came from, and the authorities in the relative countries were informed.