Not long before AlphaBay took over at the top of the dark web, Alpha02 changed his username on the site to plain “admin” and announced that he would not accept any private messages. information sent to him by anyone other than an AlphaBay employee. Instead, he left much of the site’s communications to his second-in-command and head of security, a figure who went by the pseudonym DeSnake.
The Alpha02 moniker has served its purpose, giving this site initial credibility. Now, the man behind it intends, like secret crime bosses around the world, to slip into the shadows, scavenging his possessions as quietly and anonymously as possible.
That fortune, by the time Alpha02 changed its name, was growing at an unprecedented rate: By October 2015, AlphaBay had more than 200,000 users and more than 21,000 product listings for drugs, compared with just 12,000 listings on Silk Road. at its peak. By mid-2016, AlphaBay had surpassed Agora’s peak revenue of $350,000 a day, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon. It has become not only the largest black market on the dark web, but also the largest cryptocurrency black market of all time. And it’s still going strong.
For Grant Rabenn, the Fresno-based prosecutor, it’s clear that Alpha02 is currently the most wanted man on the dark web; Rabenn compared his popularity among digital crime investigators to that of Osama bin Laden. Rabenn said AlphaBay and Alpha02 have been invoked at every cybercrime law enforcement conference, every interagency meeting, every training event. And as the target on Alpha02’s back grew larger, the fear became speechless that this mastermind might be one step ahead of them indefinitely.
“Is this person just a pure genius who figured out all the possible mistakes?” Rabenn recalls asking himself. “Will this individual find the perfect country with the right IT infrastructure to run the market, and can he bribe the officials there so we never touch him?
“As each day goes by, there is more and more of the feeling that this could be something special,” says Rabenn. “You start to wonder: Is this the Michael Jordan of the dark web?”
But Rabenn watched discussions about Alpha02 from afar. The idea that his Fresno team could actually take on the dark web’s Michael Jordan never occurred to him. “That is not expected for people like us,” he said simply, “following such a website.”
Before Grant Rabenn When he became a federal prosecutor, his second job outside of law school was at a boutique firm in Washington, DC, specializing in protecting white-collar criminals. The young, olive-skinned lawyer with dark hair and a Hollywood smile ended up representing Russian oligarchs and corporate executives accused of bribing foreign governments. “Interestingly, rich people try to hide their wealth and avoid scrutiny”, as he describes them, or alternatively, “James Bond characters are flying around the world with suitcase full of cash.”
Rabenn was intrigued by glimpses of a world of billions of dollars moving in invisible transactions. But he also found that he admired and envied the prosecutors across the table – the way they worked in the public interest and had a certain amount of autonomy, choosing which cases they would pursue. So he started applying for jobs with the Department of Justice, eventually finding a job in Fresno.