German police, in conjunction with U.S. law enforcement authorities, have takedown Hydra Market, the world’s largest darknet marketplace. The seizure of Hydra also saw the capture of 543 bitcoins from the market, currently worth around $25 million.
Founded in 2015, Hydra Market is claimed to have had a darknet market share of around 80%. The darknet is an overlay network on the internet that can only be accessed with specific software. It’s sometimes referred to as the hidden web as while easy to access with the right software – typically a Tor browser, it is not part of the regular worldwide web.
Hydra Market is believed to have processed approximately $5.2 billion in cryptocurrency transactions. The market, at the time of being shut down, had around 19,000 registered seller accounts that served at least 17 million customers, typically in Russian-speaking countries. Hydra Market sold various items ranging from illegal drugs, stolen financial information, fake identification, money laundering and mixing services.
The bitcoin mixing service offered by Hydra Market complicated the ability to take the service down. A mixing or tumbler service mixes identifiable or tainted cryptocurrency funds with others to obscure the trail back to the fund’s original source.
“The Department of Justice will not allow darknet markets and cryptocurrency to be a safe haven for money laundering and the sale of hacking tools and services,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, said in a statement. “Our message should be clear: we will continue to go after darknet markets and those who exploit them. Together with our partners in Germany and around the world, we will continue our work to disrupt the ecosystem that allows these criminal actors to operate.”
Along with the takedown in Germany, the Justice Department also announced criminal charges against Dmitry Olegovich Pavlov, a resident of Russia, for conspiracy to distribute narcotics and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with his operation and administration of the servers used to run Hydra.
No arrests have so far been made as part of the takedown.
Raids and takedowns against darknet market operators are not new, although they are not a regular occurrence. The most famous darknet takedown dates back to 2013 with Silk Road, but there have been others since, such as Alphabay in 2017.
While law enforcement may be celebrating the takedown of Hydra Market, taking down darknet markets is a game of whack-a-mole. One is taken down and then it’s replaced by various others.