A joint operation undertaken by US and German authorities shut down the largest illegal darknet marketplace in the world and seized $25m in cryptocurrency, officials say.
Hydra, a Russian-language marketplace on the darknet that officials say specializes in drug sales and many other illegal services, was shut down by the German authorities in cooperation with the U.S Department of Justice.
“Today the German Federal Criminal Police, in coordination with US federal law enforcement, seized the servers of Hydra Market,” according to a Justice Department statement.
Following a top-secret eight-month investigation, the site’s infrastructure in Germany has been shut down.
Authorities in Germany claim that Hydra, which has more than 17 million customers and has been active since at least 2015, sells illegal drugs and stolen data as well as forged documents.
Hydra had close to $1.35 billion in revenue in 2020, investigators say. They also discovered 19,000 active seller accounts representing the largest online illegal marketplace ever.
CipherTrace, a blockchain forensics firm, says Hydra served many countries including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Moldova.
The site had moved away from the traditional way of serving goods through camouflaged postal mail items and It is believed that rather than sending the items via traditional mail, the dark web network created a package of the nefarious goods which was then hidden at a location where the buyer could pick them up when he arrived using a set of coordinates.
Buyers, sellers, or any courier would never physically interact with each other greatly minimizing the risk involved and hindering police efforts to track the clandestine operations.
How did Hydra work?
Prosecutors claim Hydra had approximately 19,000 vendors and 17 million customers. In 2020, Hydra is estimated to have generated around 1.23 billion euros in sales.
The cyber security publication CPO reported that Hydra experienced a growth of 634% from 2018 to 2020, accounting for 75% of all illegal online transactions.
Cybercriminals have also been drawn to it in the United States, including the DarkSide gang responsible for the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack.
In the wake of the pandemic, Hydra’s business flourished as more illegal activities were moved online.
A police sting also last year brought an end to the famous darknet marketplace DarkMarket, which had nearly 500,000 subscribers and more than 2,400 vendors worldwide.