Dark Web Marketplace Hydra Shut Down Following DOJ Investigation

The world's largest and longest-running dark web market was shut down Tuesday following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with German authorities.

Prosecutors say Hydra, a Russian-language site, accounted for "80 percent of all dark web market-related cryptocurrency dealings." Since 2015, Hydra has received approximately $5.2 billion in cryptocurrency for illegal transactions.

Authorities seized Hydra servers on Tuesday in Germany, confiscating cryptocurrency wallets containing $25 million worth of bitcoin. The website's infrastructure has now been shut down following an eight-month-long investigation.

Court documents say that Hydra enabled users to buy and sell illegal goods—drugs, stolen financial information, fraudulent identification documents—and services like money laundering, all anonymously, according to court documents.

Vendors on the site allegedly offered a variety of drugs for sale, including cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, heroin and other opioids. Prosecutors say the vendors would "openly advertise" their drugs for sale, usually including photographs and descriptions of the substances. Buyers even rated the sellers and their products on a five-star rating system.

Dark web
The world's largest and longest-running dark web market was shut down following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with German authorities. Getty Images

Hydra had some 19,000 registered vendors and 17 million customer accounts, according to prosecutors.

"The darknet has been a key online marketplace for the sale of deadly drugs worldwide," said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). "The availability of illicit substances and money laundering services offered by Hydra threaten the safety and health of communities far and wide."

Beyond drugs, Hydra allegedly featured vendors selling false identification documents. Court documents say people were able to purchase documents like U.S. passports and drivers' licenses. Moreover, documents could be customized to the buyers' wants based on photographs and other information they provided.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions against Hydra. In addition to sanctioning the site, OFAC is in the act of identifying over 100 virtual currency addresses associated with Hydra's operations that have been used to allegedly conduct illicit transactions.

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

"Today's announcement is a testament to the strength and potency of our law enforcement partnerships here and around the world—and another example of our strategy to broadly target the entire illicit ecosystem that drives and enables crime," Wray continued.

The FBI says its investigative efforts against the dark web focus on "the most egregious criminal organizations and activities" and not individual criminals. Typically, products and services involve child sexual exploitation; drugs; guns; chemical, biological, and radiological materials, according to the FBI.

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Justice for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Purchases on the dark web don't always remain in the dark, though.

Recently, a Utah man was arrested after admitting that he visited the dark web to hire a hitman amid a custody battle.

Back in 2019, two other dark web marketplaces were dismantled and three of the defendants were named in the lawsuit linked to one of them.

All of that happened after a report that showed a crackdown on more than 20,000 rogue websites on the open web that forced vendors to underground sites.