Cops Seize Illegal Online Marketplace

John Lister's picture

Police in Germany have shut down a major underground website used mainly for illegal drug deals and money laundering. But the people behind Hydra remain at large.

The shutdown was an international effort which included the assistance of the US Treasury. Despite its physical location in Germany, most of the users and operators of Hydra appear to have been from Russia and other former Soviet Union nations.

Hydra has been described as a darknet marketplace. Darknet usually means the site is only accessible through special software that makes it much harder to track who has visited it. Darknet marketplaces usually involve people paying online for illegal goods that are then delivered in the real world. A feedback system tries to overcome the obvious risk of sellers taking money and then failing to deliver.

Drugs Dealt In Dead Drops

The most common goods sold on Hydra appear to have been illegal drugs. Rather than send them through the post, sellers would hide them in a public "dead drop" and give the location to buyers. The site also doubled up as a place to "launder" digital money, for example the proceeds of ransomware scams, further reducing the chances of scammers getting caught. (Source: yahoo.com)

Given the nature of the site, law enforcement officials were likely surprised when they got a tip off that its servers were based in Germany. After some initial resistance from the company which hosted the site (on a "no questions asked" basis), a court gave permission for the police to seize the site.

$25 Million Seized

They say the site included more than 19,000 seller accounts and 17 million registered buyers. The seizure also let police seize the equivalent of US$25 million in virtual currency Bitcoin. That was most likely money that the operators had taken in transaction fees and not yet moved to other accounts.

Given the site's name, cynics would be forgiven for expecting Hydra to pop up again in a different form. The operators certainly have incentive to do so given estimated revenue in 2020 of $1.3 billion. (Source: treasury.gov)

However, they may decide its time to walk away rather than risk being personally traced and brought to justice.

What's Your Opinion?

Does it matter that such sites are shut down if the people behind them remain at large? Are you surprised the operators chose to host the site in Germany? Is it inevitable that the Internet will always be used for illegal activity?

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.8 (6 votes)