Not dissimilar to the days after Operation Hyperion peaked, the Australian Federal Police received “a trove” of information on darknet users after the takedown of Alphabay and Hansa Marketplaces. According to a report from ABC Australia, the AFP collected data on roughly 150 darknet vendors. Alana Maurushat of the University of NSW said that if the police wanted to go after the Australian darknet market users then and there, they could probably do so. “It’s just a matter of political will to go after the buyers and sellers,” she said.
Elise Worthington, an award winning journalist, shadowed officers of the Australian Border Force as they selected articles of international mail for spot searches. On the day Worthington interviewed the ABF regarding darknet drug markets, an officer searched 50 pieces of international mail—48 of which contained drugs. The ABF officer explained that the searches she conducted were spot checks. No early warning system. However, she noted that mail from Germany and the Netherlands often contained cocaine or MDMA, respectively. In the video, aside from a small number of LSD tabs, the officer unpacked almost exclusively cocaine and ecstasy tablets. She said that 48 out of 50 packages was a normal occurrence for her.
“In terms of the number of darknet drug dealers we are the second highest country per capita in the world, just behind the Netherlands,” Dr James Martin, a criminologist from Macquarie University, told ABC. “Australia is an isolated drug market and there’s been issues with people accessing high quality illicit drugs, so we see on the darknet provides quite a useful alternative,” Martin continued. He explained that Australian drug users preferred the darknet because of the “decent prices” and the ability to get drugs without knowing a “traditional dealer.”
After a recent takedown of an Australian darknet vendor by “Strike Force Colette,” a newly created task force for dealing with drug laws, Detective Superintendent Tony Cooke offered his opinion. “The internet allows drug suppliers to engage with users from the comfort of their own homes or anywhere they are on their mobiles,” he said. Furthermore, “this criminal enterprise presents a unique challenge for law enforcement, but, we too are evolving and adapting our tactics to infiltrate these spaces and detect drug transactions.”
The National Manager of Specialist Operations at the Australian Federal Police, Dr. Simon Walsh, added the usual law enforcement spiel. “We’re dealing with high volume offences,” Dr. Walsh said. He explained that the high volume made the job painstaking for law enforcement, but they were adapting along with the criminals.
A significant focus of Australian authorities seems to be on cybercrime. Stolen bank details, medicare information, and ID scans. Worthington singled out a vendor on both Alphabay and Hansa, following the Alphabay closure. The vendor went by “Petrovich” and sold Commonwealth Bank and ANZ banking details. She reached out to ANZ for comment and learned ANZ was “aware this individual has been attempting to sell log-in information for both Australian and international bank accounts.” The spokesperson added that ANZ systems were safe. “The logins are likely obtained through methods such as phishing or malware being installed directly on the customer’s computer.”
“You shouldn’t think that if you are working on the darknet, that you are anonymous to law enforcement and that your crime is going to go unseen,” explained Dr. Walsh; he added that criminals should not assume anonymity on the darknet “because of what they understand about the darknet and the way in which it works.”