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US Justice Department shuts down Russian dark web marketplace Hydra

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The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has shut down Hydra Market, one of the world’s largest darknet marketplaces. On Tuesday, the DOJ and German federal police seized Hydra’s servers and cryptocurrency wallets containing $25 million worth of bitcoin.

Hydra was an online criminal marketplace where primarily Russian users bought and sold illicit goods and services, including illegal drugs, stolen financial information, fraudulent identification documents, and money laundering and mixing services.

Transactions on Hydra were conducted in cryptocurrency with the operators earning revenue by charging a commission for every transaction conducted on the market.

In 2021, Hydra accounted for an estimated 80% of all darknet market-related cryptocurrency transactions, and since 2015, the marketplace has received approximately $5.2 billion in cryptocurrency, the DOJ said.

“The successful seizure of Hydra, the world’s largest darknet marketplace, dismantled digital infrastructures which had enabled a wide range of criminals — including Russian cybercriminals, the cryptocurrency tumblers, and money launderers that support them and others, and drug traffickers,” said FBI director Christopher Wray.   

Along with shutting down Hydra’s servers, the DOJ also issued criminal charges against Russian resident Dmitry Olegovich Pavlov for conspiracy to distribute narcotics and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with his operation and administration of the servers used to run Hydra.

Pavlov is allegedly the administrator of Hydra’s servers. According to the DOJ, Pavlov administered the servers through a shell company called Promservice, which was also known as Hosting Company Full Drive, All Wheel Drive, and 4x4host.ru. As an active administrator in hosting Hydra’s servers, Pavlov allegedly conspired with the other operators of Hydra to further the site’s success by providing the critical infrastructure that allowed Hydra to operate and thrive in a competitive darknet market environment.

A day prior to the Hydra shutdown, the DOJ also arrested a man based in Florida and seized $34 million worth of cryptocurrency from him as part of a dark web bust, which the department said is one of its largest to date.

The Florida man allegedly earned millions by using an online alias to make over 100,000 sales of illicit items and hacked online account information on several of the world’s largest dark web marketplaces. Among the illicit items he sold were hacked online account information for popular services such as HBO, Netflix, and Uber, among others.

The unnamed Florida man allegedly utilised tumblers and illegal dark web money transmitter services to launder one cryptocurrency for another — a technique called chain hopping — in violation of federal money laundering statutes. A tumbler is a dark web mixing service that pools together multiple cryptocurrency transactions before distributing the cryptocurrency to a designated cryptocurrency wallet at random times, and in random increments.

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