Although police in the Netherlands visited the homes of 37 users of the defunct Hansa market in January, they only made a single arrest. The operation, a so called ‘knock-and-talk‘ campaign, served as a threat to some Hansa buyers: more arrests may follow. The buyers who ordered personal amounts of drugs may have dodged a bullet this time, according to the police. But anyone who ordered anything more than a personal amount may face prosecution in the near future.
The police, during their ‘knock-and-talk’ campaign, arrested a 25-year-old man from Wilp. All of the targets in the Public Prosecution Service’s campaign landed on law enforcement’s list for a drug purchase of one kind or another, Wilbert Paulissen, head of the National Criminal Investigation Department said. The Wilp man, compared to some of the recent drug busts of a much larger scale, made a relatively insignificant purchase on the Hansa marketplace. According to the authorities, the 25-year-old had purchased 150 ecstasy pills on the marketplace during the month that Netherlands law enforcement controlled the market’s servers.
According to glaring seizure banners that authorities simultaneously launched on the Alphabay and Hansa homepages last year, Netherlands law enforcement had taken control of Hansa roughly one month before pulling the darknet market’s plug. Thanks to German authorities who received far too little for their role in the operation, Netherlands authorities managed to stealthily take control of Hansa’s servers.
The operation, dubbed ‘Operation Bayonet’ by the FBI, apparently involved a significant amount of planning and international cooperation. While it could have been a fortunate coincidence for law enforcement instead of impressive planning, the outcome was the same. After the FBI pulled the plug on Alphabay servers, users moved to Hansa market, unaware that German authorities had arrested the market’s owners for running an pirated ebook website.
Authorities never revealed the exact methods used to identify Hansa market buyers. They jokingly implied that they had managed to crack Hansa’s “encryption.” The truth is likely far less impressive, though. One scenario some initially discussed was one that pointed to the users accidentally revealing their own identities through the market’s automatic address encryption. The investigators took advantage of the so-called feature and captured plaintext inputs. Or something like that.
From their position as darknet market owners, the authorities found that the 37 drug buyers in the Netherlands purchased LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, or marijuana. Presumably in smaller quantities than the Wilp man’s 150 pill order. While under law enforcement control, buyers around the world made more than 50,000 orders.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the National Criminal Investigation Department, spoke on the incident. He said that identifying ‘anonymous’ users on the internet was essential. “Now it’s about drugs, but it could be about weapons or child pornography,” he said.