AlphaBay, one of the largest and most notorious dark web marketplaces, was shut down in a US led operation on July 5th of this year. As reported by SBS News, this marketplace sold a wide range of items, from Australian Medicare Card numbers, priced around $30 per number, to illegal paraphernalia and weapons. Following the successful takedown of AlphaBay, Alexandre Cazes, the founder of the marketplace, was found dead in the Thai jail where he was being held under US orders. The large-scale sting operation that saw the end of AlphaBay is merely one of many setups that have sought to see the fall of dark web marketplaces. While these places are a breeding ground for crime, at the centre of this issue is the threat that these vendors pose to international security.
Patrick Martin, a cybersecurity analyst, states that, “Many people mistakenly believe the dark web is only about drugs, guns and illicit material – a world away from everyday life, and a world never likely to affect normal society. The truth though is that the dark web is a massive marketplace for corporate and consumer data like credit card details, login credentials and intellectual property – meaning that everyone is at risk from the dark web”. Further, as the NATO Association of Canada (NAOC) reports, “The dark web acts as gateway for high risk individuals to obtain deadly weapons, which could inevitably compromise national security. For instance, if a high profile terrorist group was able to obtain weapons grade uranium (which is available on the dark web), they could ultimately develop a nuclear weapon that could be used against a state.” This is further exacerbated by the issue that transactions are virtually traceless on such a platform.
International cooperation was a vital element of the AlphaBay takedown, with the law enforcement agencies of Thailand, the United States, and Europe being involved in the operation. As the Executive Director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, stated, “This is an outstanding success by authorities in Europe and the US. The capability of drug traffickers and other serious criminals around the world has taken a serious hit today after a highly sophisticated joint action in multiple countries.” However, AlphaBay represents only the tip of the iceberg of many other dark web marketplaces.
In the age of technological innovation, marketplaces such as AlphaBay arguably pose a threat to international peace and security that may be as dire as what is regarded as conventional warfare. As it was discussed by NAOC, cyber threats are often actualised into physical threats through the trading of weapons. Identifying such threats and taking efforts to mitigate them is often more difficult than one would expect; the identities of cyber criminals are heavily encrypted and largely untraceable without a significant operation designed specifically to takedown dark web marketplaces. A peripheral issue that arises is the exchange of Bitcoin currency being susceptible to exploitation for the purpose of money laundering and financing terrorist organisations. Needless to say, dark web marketplaces such as AlphaBay present a host of issues that threaten international peace and security.