Treasury Sanctions Russian 'Hydra' Dark Net, Major Crypto Trading Platform

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Hydra Market and Garantex as it continues cryptocurrency laundering crackdowns. 

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced new sanctions on a worldwide darknet market on Tuesday, part of a larger international initiative to stop illicit market activities online. 

Hydra Market, commonly known as just Hydra, along with virtual currency exchange Garantex, are now restricted from being accessed by all U.S. persons. Hydra was launched in 2015 and is considered the most popular Russian dark net, along with the largest in the world. 

Services such as ransomware-for-hire, hacking, malware, stolen personal data, counterfeit currency and illegal drugs are all available on Hydra. In 2020, Hydra’s total revenue is estimated to be over $1.3 billion. 

Many of the illicit goods purchased on Hydra are completed with virtual currencies. Garantex, a virtual currency exchange, is registered in Estonia and allows customers to buy and sell virtual currencies with government-backed fiats. 

Most of Garantex’s business operations are conducted in Moscow, and known transactions on the website value at roughly $100 million.

“The global threat of cybercrime and ransomware that originates in Russia, and the ability of criminal leaders to operate there with impunity, is deeply concerning to the United States,” said Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen. “Our actions send a message today to criminals that you cannot hide on the darknet or their forums, and you cannot hide in Russia or anywhere else in the world. In coordination with allies and partners, like Germany and Estonia, we will continue to disrupt these networks.”

Treasury officials are currently in the process of identifying over 100 digital currency addresses associated with Hydra operations, which will be shared as they become available. 

The move comes as Russia continues to invade Ukraine and countries worldwide work to impose sanctions in a bid to weaken Russia’s economy. 

“Russia is a haven for cybercriminals,” the release reads. “Treasury is committed to taking action against actors that, like Hydra and Garantex, willfully disregard anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism obligations and allow their systems to be abused by illicit actors.”

German and Estonian authorities were reportedly working closely with federal law enforcement, with the German Federal Criminal Police shutting down Hydra’s Germany-based servers on Tuesday and seizing $25 million in bitcoin.