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'Treasure hunter' dark web marketplace Hydra seized and shuttered by German cyber police

Hydra Market operated on a vastly different model to most other popular marketplaces of its kind and was among the most popular in existence

German authorities shut down the ‘treasure hunter’ dark web marketplace Hydra, believed to be the largest marketplace of its kind in existence.

Hydra originates from Russia and caters to customers in several Eastern European and Asian countries such as Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia.

The German Central Office for Combating Cybercrime (ZIT) and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) announced on Tuesday that they seized Hydra’s server infrastructure and closed the dark web operation.

It follows months of investigations led by the BKA and ZIT first starting in August 2021 and supported by the US authorities too.

“According to ZIT and BKA estimates, ‘Hydra Market’ was probably the illegal marketplace with the highest turnover worldwide,” the BKA said. “Its sales amounted to at least 1.23 billion euros in 2020 alone.

“In particular, the Bitcoin Bank Mixer, a service for obfuscating digital transactions provided by the platform, made [cryptocurrency] investigations extremely difficult for law enforcement agencies.”

Announcing the news, the BKA also said it seized 23 million euros worth of Bitcoin in the process of closing the illegal operation.

German authorities also played a significant role in taking down the Alphabay and Hansa markets in 2017. Authorities seized control of Hansa's servers after shutting down Alphabay, operating on the site as administrators to gather information on individuals before shutting down the site for good.

A highly unique model

Active since at least 2015, Hydra Market operated on a model that was much different to other markets like it; others typically allow users to place orders for illicit items which are received through the post.

Hydra operated on a ‘treasure’ model, according to information obtained by The Project, which sees a network of suppliers and delivery personnel hide packages in inconspicuous locations for buyers to go and collect in person.

International and domestic suppliers worked together to create ‘master treasures’ - large banks of illicit items like drugs - for delivery staff to drop at ‘local treasure’ locations convenient for the buyer.

Buyers could opt for instant delivery where they would receive coordinates to find the hidden package at the point of purchase or select a pre-order to arrange collection later.

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There also existed a roulette-style feature on the site where users could stake a sum smaller than what was required for their order and risk either losing their money and not getting any product or winning their desired order for the lower price they staked.

According to the BKA, Hydra Market had 17 million customers using the site and more than 19,000 suppliers were registered by the time it was taken down.

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