back to article Alphabay shutdown: Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? Not use your Hotmail...

The alleged owner of dark-web marketplace AlphaBay was tracked down by FBI because he was stupid enough to include his real Hotmail address in the content management system used to run the site. That is one of the eye-opening details in the case of Alexandre Cazes, the 25-year-old arrested earlier this month in Thailand …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My tin foil hat just immolated itself.

    Why even bother putting it on tor when you leave everything else wide open?

    I'm going to throw my sausage in a bucket and go for the guy killed was killed for other reasons (I know it says Suicide, but like Dr Kelly we all know that's bullshit)

    1. Meph

      "we all know that's bullshit"

      I concur, I'd say that he was the web geek and well paid fall guy. I'm guessing someone else was pulling the strings, and made sure that nobody would look any deeper.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I suspect he was just stupid; if you were the web geek fall guy, wouldn't you take some steps to cover your tracks?

        1. Natalie Gritpants

          If you're in a situation with guys running the dark web and you don't know who the fall guy is -- it's you.

    2. FuzzyWuzzys Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Sound like a complete tool who got what he deserved

      Personally I think this guy got what was coming to him, you mess about with bad stuff like this, with nasty people and let's face it drug dealers and gun runners aren't known primarily for their skills in the tact dept, add to this that you're too stupid to make sure these sort of people can't find you if any bad stuff happens on your website, it doesn't take a genius to work out that sooner or later you're going to be found swinging on the end of a rope in a prison cell or found floating face down in the nearest river!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Sound like a complete tool who got what he deserved

        I thought that if you enabled dodgy deals for drug companies and arms dealers you got a nice directorship after you left the government?

    3. Andrew Moore Silver badge

      Agreed- "suicide" seems to convenient considering his clientele...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The problem these silk road types have is that they're geeks and not real criminals with a lengthy background in the "trade". This means that they all have real issues when it comes to converting their dark web gains to real world assets as shown here by the use of his real identity for just about everything. I don't honestly believe he was top dog in this operation but he was unbelievably naive as exhibited in his behaviour with money and security. Nothing encrypted? Jesus wept. The fact he committed suicide rather quickly and conveniently in a Thai prison cell says it all. That is one corrupt judicial system.

  2. handleoclast Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Found hanging by a towel

    Given how clever the guy was, he probably thought the towel was a neck tie and had problems adjusting the knot.

  3. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    If he was so easy to identify, why wasn't he stopped long before he'd made $23 million from it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      [conspiracy mode]

      It was all set up as a hush-hush law enforcement undercover sting operation. Then the operatives found it was a nice earner and took over most of the market. Finally someone realised that it was going to look bad if the truth came out. So they decided to make a career enhancing "successful bust" out of it - and erase any incriminating connections.

      [/conspiracy mode]

      IIRC US government agencies have previous on undercover operations that got out of control and became major suppliers in their target market.

      **see also

      Three Days of the Condor (1975)

      Air America (1990)

    2. LDS Silver badge

      "If he was so easy to identify...."

      It's easy to read it after the fact. Putting together all the pieces *before* should have been not so easy. Also you become a real target when your "operations" get bigger.

  4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Smell Test

    Anyone who is running an illegal enterprise should know they need to cover their tracks so the flatfeet have difficulty pinning anything on you. Setting up a new avatar to hide your real identity would about the first item on the list. Encrypting hard drives would be the next item. Either he has trouble talking to the vast intelligence of a rock or someone is using him as bait/fall guy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Holmes

      Re: Smell Test

      Yup. If the marketplace was making a billion, then the real mastermind could probably afford $25 million to get someone to agree to play the fall guy. The only other piece of business would be liquidating him once he fell into police hands, in order to kill the trail back to the mastermind...

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        Re: Smell Test

        @Andy Prough - Trades worth up to a Billion were being made on the site, that doesnt mean the site EARNED billions. Ebay doesnt earn 100% of the cash when you sell something on it. There is a listing fee, but I have no idea what that would be on a dark web marketplace. He managed to earn $25 million in Profit, so obviously he was charging a bit, but still, dont confuse your values here.

        Also him being killed, so that he cant reveal names and stuff. I dont buy it, all that stuff is on his computers. He doesnt know names or addresses, anymore then the sysadmins at Ebay know every sellers details. They could maybe look them up on the servers, but ask them down the Pub and they wouldnt have a clue, so what info can he give the cops in person, that they dont already have from the Servers? As for the suicide, well you hear more then enough stories about Thai Police, so it's possible he wasnt "co-operating" enough, and they went a bit overboard. Or it could be he really did take his life, since he realised he was facing either life in a Thai prison (Hell on Earth) or life in an American prison (Hell is other prisoners!). Those prospects would certainly lead someone to think about taking their own life...

        1. Florida1920 Silver badge

          Re: Smell Test

          Also him being killed, so that he cant reveal names and stuff. I dont buy it, all that stuff is on his computers. He doesnt know names or addresses, anymore then the sysadmins at Ebay know every sellers details. They could maybe look them up on the servers

          Exactly. If he was murdered, it may have been done simply pour encourager les autres: You mess up and expose the wrong guys, you die.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Smell Test

          @Andy Prough - Trades worth up to a Billion were being made on the site, that doesnt mean the site EARNED billions. Ebay doesnt earn 100% of the cash when you sell something on it. There is a listing fee, but I have no idea what that would be on a dark web marketplace.

          Think about it a bit though. You're selling illegal shit on the world's biggest flea market. 1% of the gross would net $10m and I'd suggest 5-10% would be a more likely ticket clip - not like you're going to complain to the competition watchdog or the office of fair trading. At that level you're looking at $50-100m income. Before you say "that's way too high" it would mean $25 of drugs would cost $27.50, hardly a deal-breaker.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Smell Test

      most people realize "all of that" up front, which keeps them from STARTING an illegal enterprise...

      I mean, if you KNOW that some day the cops will come looking for you if you "do that", and you know that new ways of collecting evidence are being invented all of the time, and maybe some day evidence you didn't even know COULD be collected will end up convicting you, then why would you bother starting such a business in the FIRST place?

      OK I'm not a sociopath, nor do I have a criminal mindset, and so I don't "understand" it at all. But apparently THAT guy did/was. And he actually operated like that long enough to earn "that much".

      /me facepalming

      1. Kiwi Silver badge

        Re: Smell Test

        most people realize "all of that" up front, which keeps them from STARTING an illegal enterprise...

        It's been said that the best place to learn how to "never get caught" is.... in prison..

        Most crims don't believe they'll ever be caught, and when you look at the very poor clearance rates for many "crimes" (often while coppers are busy dealing with unimportant stuff that prevents them dealing with proper crimes (yes I am one who views cannabis as "should be legal" (don't use, never used, probably never would) and who believes the cops' time would be better spent on burglaries etc etc etc etc than wasted on something so relatively harmless) you can see why people would feel that way.

        Though that said, given how un-protected that guy was, either he was taking a lot of trust in his being overseas, or he was terminally exceptionally stupid, or there's just a teensy wee bit more to the story than has been published thus far.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Smell Test

          "(yes I am one who views cannabis as "should be legal" (don't use, never used, probably never would) and who believes the cops' time would be better spent on burglaries"

          That does appear to be the attitude of our fine Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

          "or he was terminally exceptionally stupid"

          My guess is he's a psychopath. Psychopaths don't consider the harm their actions may be doing to other people, and in fact they don't seem to think other people are "really real". They also believe that they are much more intelligent than other people. Leaving evidence lying around and congratulating yourself that other people are far too stupid to notice is exactly what a psychopath might do.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Smell Test

      the theory that he was a fall guy doesn't add up. I mean, if he was a puppet, it would have been in the best interest of those pulling the strings to make sure the puppet stays in business for as long as possible (well, forever). They, as evil masters would have known about security (presumably?), and would have not knowingly let their business run aground because of a hotmail address. They would have insisted the guy use top security and given the money involved, it would have been really top security. In reality though, it appears to have been a monstrual security cockup on his account. But the really interesting issue, one that will never be broadly discussed by media, is how come he's run this hotmail evil empire for a good few years, i.e. how long did it take the... well, the "good guys" to find all that out? Yes, well, "we do not discuss operational details", which is, sadly a perfect excuse to hide any (if any!) cockups made by those in charge of monitoring such "dark web(s)"

  5. Mark 85 Silver badge

    It might just be that we're all too cynical here to accept the "suicide" as being a "suicide". Back in my younger days, I knew several people (all in their mid to late 20's) who killed themselves and it was over less than what Alexandre was facing. Stull like "fight with girl friend", lost paycheck at casino, etc. So I think suicide is very possible... until one considers Thailand. At this point... I tend to buy the story lock, stock, and barrel.. he did himself in possibly just escape being in a Thailand jail.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Agree

      The closest I've been to suicide was when by sister's best friend jumped off a bridge after a fight with her boyfriend. They'd gone for a night out at a pub and it ended with her body in the river. This guy went from living the high life to living in the "Bangkok Hilton". That sort of thing can break strong men let alone the sort of idiot who goes by the name "Pimp Alex".

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Agree

        Also, at the risk of been seen as making jail rape jokes which I abhor this guy went from being "pimp" to being "bitch". That's an irony worthy of Shakespeare and we all know what happens to the protagonists in Shakespearean tragedies.

  6. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Alien

    Tricks of the mind

    We can shake our heads at the story. But perhaps he had some kind of psychological disorder - maybe akin to some form of autism - that left him genuinely in a state of having some strengths but also those incredible blind spots? Or it's slightly like the kind of disjunction that can follow a stroke.

    I'm not a medic, let alone a shrink. Any commentard who has the relevant expertise is cordially invited to tell me the above is gibberish. Preferably with reasons.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Tricks of the mind

      the only disorder he may have had was being a sociopath, and not viewing anything he did as "wrong".

      Other than that, he was a typical "dumb crook". He was criminally smart enough to put the web site together and get paid, but stupid enough to leave a nice fat trail for the cops to follow.

  7. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Encryption

    So now we know. The Master Criminal didn't use encryption, nor even basic security.

    Someone remind me. What's that backdoor some politicians are so keen on supposed to reveal?

    Damn. Couldn't resist. It's about as coherent as May/Rudd or aussie George on crypto backdoors.

  8. mrobaer
    Big Brother

    Overstayed his welcome

    I suspect this venture was quickly sniffed out by law enforcement agencies, who then proceeded to use this site as an unwilling informant. It may also be very likely Cazes was in-the-know about this, or found out about it, and had to be silenced before the customers found out. I wonder how many of those customers were arrested before this guy went down?

  9. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge
    WTF?

    uhhhmeeeeriiika!

    "arrested earlier this month in Thailand ", "email address belonged to a Canadian man", "investigators stormed Cazes' house in Bangkok", "Other houses were found in Phuket, Cyprus, Antigua and Barbuda and added to the asset seizure.", "He sought – and achieved – citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda ", "He even sent money from Thailand through Liechtenstein to Cyprus".

    America, World Police. Fuck Yeah.

  10. rmason Silver badge

    I don't think there's any need to look for some sort of deep conspiracy here.

    What we have is a guy who clearly isn't some sort of hardened criminal facing a very long sentence in either a Thai or US jail. I'd be amazed if there was anything more to it than that. He was caught, and doesn't fancy spending the next half of his life or more locked away.

    1. ro55mo

      Half?

      More like all of it (like Silk Road guy) or a death sentence in Thailand

  11. naive

    What did he do wrong ?.

    To me it is unclear to which extent he would have been guilty of crimes, he deployed a market place in which others were selling illegal goods and engaged in tax evasion. Unless he did not sell illegal stuff himself, "conspiracy in drug trade and tax evasion" are perhaps the only things that would stick.

    Funny that the FBI goes after the owner of the electronic marketplace, but not after the guys selling all this stuff. But I guess that is how the USA deals with things, they don't care about the fact that their drug buying habit causes tens of thousands people being killed in South America in drug trade related crimes.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: What did he do wrong ?.

      Funny that the FBI goes after the owner of the electronic marketplace, but not after the guys selling all this stuff

      Apparently, they now have a fairly complete picture of the supplier and buyers on the site. So I'd expect that there will be quite a few follow-on prosecutions.

      Although, I suspect that a lot of the vendors have a much better idea of opsec than the admin and have put sufficient effort into ensuring that (for the moment) they can't be traced. Or, at the very least, have paid their protection money to some very scary people.

      1. Walter Bishop Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: What did he do wrong ?.

        "Apparently, they now have a fairly complete picture of the supplier and buyers on the site. So I'd expect that there will be quite a few follow-on prosecutions."

        The suppliers and money launderers will remain invisible and untouchable. The so-called war on drugs is lost. Activities like the Alphabay bust are a futile waste of time.

  12. Tim Seventh

    The Suicide

    There are a few possible reasons to his suicide

    - Health issue - Natural caused death.

    - Psychological issue - He has problem being kept in enclosed environment or something, result in death.

    - Commercial issue - Knowing that he left his customers list for the cops, he feel that he is likely going to be kills. Therefore he suicide.

    - External cause - Either one of his customer or the police killed him.

    - Fake out - The police faked his death on the news, hoping to press more information from another person, like his wife.

  13. Archivist

    Too much credit

    This person was not clever (and made some stupid errors) he was stupid.

    We give "successful" people too much credit; most of success is luck, situation and gaul.

    I'm sure many of the posters here could have done the same as he did, with just as much success - maybe more, because even with the gaul, most would have taken proper precautions.

    1. Uffish

      Re: "even with the gaul"

      Would that be Asterix then?

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: "even with the gaul"

        Would that be Asterix then?

        Well - it was an easy way to Getafix..

  14. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I think that people are going to be wary of using whatever takes over from Alphabay after this news has broke. It is one thing that the site owner got caught because he was stupid enough to use a hotmail address that he also used elsewhere. But to leave all your data exposed on an unencrypted laptop means that the police will be able to start tracing the details of all the transactions that took place on the site and start to arrest the dealers and the buyers.

    I am still unsure what to make of this suicide in prison story though, all seems a bit too convenient. I know someone who spent several months in a Thai prison over immigration issues. He tells me that if you have money you can pay off the prison guards and live quite comfortably with your own cell with DVD player, fridge and food brought in for you from the outside and lot of other comforts. If your poor (like most of the Thai prisoners rather than westerners) then your sharing a cell with 30 others lying on a concrete floor with one toilet between you all.

    With the amount of money he had i am sure that would have bought him a lot of KFC meals from outside.

    1. MJB7

      "If you have money"

      I suspect the problem is that the cops would have frozen all his bank accounts, so he *didn't* have money.

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      "With the amount of money he had.."

      Had is the operative word here. He's assets were frozen and his accounts locked. I'm not sure he would have had 2c to rub together let alone pay off any guards...

    3. newspuppy

      but.. not an immigration issue.. but drugs...

      Thailand is no joke when it comes to drug offenses... Death is the penalty...

      So, with assets frozen.. a high profile prisoner and death looming in his face... ?

      He would not be able to 'mitigate' the punishment....

    4. NonSSL-Login
      Facepalm

      Even dark web closures come in three's

      The FBI expect the refugee's from Hansa and AlphaBay will join another site called Dream, which they already have under their control and will shutdown in a few weeks time after intelligence gathering, if the grapevine is giving good information.

      This particular branch of the grapevine has been very good with this kind of information historically...

  15. Walter Bishop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Follow the money ..

    Buying up property and luxury cars isn't exactly the best way of mainting a low profile. Especially if you're engaged in running an illegal online pharmaceuticals market. Now that he has 'suicided' in a Thai jail, where has all the money gone?

  16. Reue

    Encryption

    My understanding is that the punishment for refusing to hand over encryption keys when demanded is just as bad as the punishments for what they think they will find. Thus; what benefit is there to encryption other than hiding crimes they weren't already after you for?

  17. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Being Super-Careful just slows down the authorities...

    Even if he'd taken every precaution, and done everything seemingly-perfectly, the authorities would have caught up with him perhaps a few months, maybe a year, later.

    Anyone disagreeing with this -^ obvious fact is utterly naïve.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Being Super-Careful just slows down the authorities...

      There have been several cases in the UK where the highly regarded perpetrator was effectively committing their crimes in plain sight. Only after their natural death have their crimes been exposed.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These dark markets deal death from heroine to guns. Fuck this guy.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or... He's still alive and living like a king in Patagonia.

    Knowing he will be busted eventually, and will never be able to live under his real name again, he pays off the Thai police to fake his death in jail. He leaves behind ~25% of his earnings and a few properties so the FBI can brag and close the case. The rest were funneled through a handful of fake seller profiles with proper opsec, untraceable. He now lives under a new identity in a big modern city in a third world country, with all the comforts of wealth and not a worry in the world.

  20. Ossi

    Given the choice between conspiracy and cock up, cock up is always the most likely explanation. This was just some dumb idiot who got caught.

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