By Neil Harris
TOR (‘The Onion Router’) the US Government sponsored internet ‘anonymiser’ has been in the news again over the last couple of weeks. Since we exposed it as a ‘honey trap’ last year, TOR has continued to provide the evidence used to entrap those foolish enough to think that it provided them with some kind of anonymity.
Developed by the Office of Naval Intelligence and still 60 per cent funded by US Government agencies, TOR provides anonymity for US spies and US backed ‘dissidents’ around the world. In fact it also gives the American government a two way mirror into the worlds of ‘dissident’ activism, the criminal underworld and the kinds of terrorism the US doesn’t control or sponsor.
On the 8th October, the BBC technology website reported the arrest in Manchester and Exeter of four Britons for supplying drugs, with a promise of more to follow. This was part of the publicity campaign marking launch day of The National Crime Agency (NCA), the new British version of the FBI. Those arrests resulted from information supplied by the American FBI itself and came from the unravelling of ‘The Silk Road’. This was a criminal version of E-bay, matching suppliers and purchasers of illegal items like drugs, guns and false identity documents.
Meanwhile Ross William Ulbricht, aka ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ or ‘DPR’, the founder and operator of The Silk Road discovered to his cost that TOR wasn’t anonymous when he appeared in the District Court of Maryland on the 1st October. The indictment is for conspiracy to supply illegal drugs and inadvertently employing an undercover FBI agent to torture and murder one of his employees. The indictment helpfully sets out the messages sent over the ‘TOR chat line’ as evidence of Ulbricht’s illegal activities.
Just like ‘The Farmer’s Market’ before it (another busted drugs marketplace) and ‘Freedom Hosting’ which provided a portal for paedophiles and others, the TOR network not only failed to hide what they were doing but gave the FBI a free view of exactly what they were up to. Until, that is, they had collected enough information to make the arrests and take the networks down.
Coincidently, on the 12th October, 12 American members of the hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’ were indicted in the Eastern district of Virginia for organising ‘Distributed Denial of Service Attacks’ in 2010 and 2011. These were organised attacks against the entertainment industry, banks, credit card companies and government sites in retaliation for the closure of ‘The Pirate Bay’ file sharing site. The prosecution evidence will be eagerly awaited in some quarters but TOR is likely to be the key that unlocked the door.
So who is next? A recent study by academics from the University of Luxembourg showed that ‘Freedom Hosting’ was only the 27th most popular TOR site, while The Silk Road’s two sites were 18th and 34th. The bulk of TOR’s most popular sites turn out to be a variety of ‘Botnet’ sites – the origin of robot devices used by internet criminals to hijack innocent people’s computers and then use them as proxies to launch spam or viruses for their illegal activities.
Ninth most popular is the ‘Bitcoin’ mining site which creates an electronic currency long overdue for exposure as a ‘Ponzi’ or illegal pyramid confidence trick.
Eight out of the top thirty most popular ‘hidden’ sites are ‘adult’ suppliers of pornography. Given how freely available internet pornography is, those that require anonymity are likely to be very extreme indeed.
The TOR sites themselves are so far down the list at 47th, 250th and 547th, that Congress should be investigating whether the American taxpayers are getting good value for their money.
Meanwhile, on the 9th September, ‘The Electronic Privacy Information Center’ (EPIC) sued ‘The Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) over its failure to release documents under Freedom of Information legislation. BBG is the propaganda arm of the US government abroad and a major financier of TOR. According to the EPIC lawsuit, in June 2012 BBG signed an agreement with TOR to finance 125 ‘exit node’ computers which increased the capacity of the network that provides anonymity to users.
Finally, the New Worker is grateful to the Washington Post of 4/10/13, for releasing details of a November 2007 briefing given to the National Security Agency (NSA - America’s GCHQ) by Roger Dingledene, director and one of the original developers of Torproject.org.
In those days Dingledine was a regular at NSA, he had given another revealing talk on the 11th of January that year, setting out issues and problems NSA and GCHQ needed to address in order to exploit TOR to their advantage. Both the NSA and GCHQ have been investigating whether TOR could be exploited as a way of tracking users away from the network. These secret briefings, in the form of PowerPoint frames, are freely available on the internet.
Meanwhile the 62nd most popular TOR site identified by The University of Luxembourg is ‘Black Market reloaded’, which has operated quietly as a more publicity shy version of The Silk Road. It’s probably hoping to quietly inherit its customers. What’s the betting that this site is going to be next in line for a visit from the FBI?