July 17, 2017
Following today’s breaking news about U.S. and international authorities taking down the competing Dark Web drug bazaars AlphaBay and Hansa Market, KrebsOnSecurity caught up with the Dutch investigators who took over Hansa on June 20, 2017. When U.S. authorities shuttered AlphaBay on July 5, police in The Netherlands saw a massive influx of AlphaBay refugees who were unwittingly fleeing directly into the arms of investigators. What follows are snippets from an exclusive interview with Petra Haandrikman, team leader of the Dutch police unit that infiltrated Hansa.
Vendors on both AlphaBay and Hansa sold a range of black market items — most especially controlled substances like heroin. According to the U.S. Justice Department, AlphaBay alone had some 40,000 vendors who marketed a quarter-million sales listings for illegal drugs to more than 200,000 customers. The DOJ said that as of earlier this year, AlphaBay had 238 vendors selling heroin. Another 122 vendors advertised Fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opioid that has been linked to countless overdoses and deaths.
In our interview, Haandrikman detailed the dual challenges of simultaneously dealing with the exodus of AlphaBay users to Hansa and keeping tabs on the giant increase in new illicit drug orders that were coming in daily as a result.
KrebsOnSecurity (K): Talk a bit about how your team was able to seize control over Hansa.
Haandrikman (H): When we knew the FBI was working on AlphaBay, we thought ‘What’s better than if they come to us?’ The FBI wanted [the AlphaBay takedown] to look like an exit scam [where the proprietors of a dark web marketplace suddenly abscond with everyone’s money]. And we knew a lot of vendors on AlphaBay would probably come over to Hansa when AlphaBay was closed.
K: Where was Hansa physically based?
H: We knew the Hansa servers were in Lithuania, so we sent an MLAT (mutual legal assistance treaty) request to Lithuania and requested if we could proceed with our planned actions in their country. They were very willing to help us in our investigations.
K: So you made a copy of the Hansa servers?
H: We gained physical access to the machines in Lithuania, and were able to set up some clustering between the [Hansa] database servers in Lithuania and servers we were running in our country. With that, we were able to get a real time copy of the Hansa database, and then copy over the Web site code itself.
K: Did you have to take Hansa offline for a while during this process?
H: No, it didn’t really go offline. We were able to create our own copy of the site that was running on servers in the Netherlands. So there were two copies of the site running simultaneously.