Crikey Clarifier

Aug 13, 2013

Crikey Clarifier: how the FBI hacked users of Tor, the ‘secret internet’

If Tor keeps users of the "secret internet" hidden, how could the FBI have tracked them down? Yes, it is difficult, but anyone who is going up against world governments should be prepared to lose. Our resident techhead explains.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

If you ask a reasonably informed techhead how you can hide yourself from the comprehensive surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA), chances are they'll recommend using Tor, a system for concealing your location on the internet, and therefore your identity. But you'd be a fool to imagine using Tor alone provides a magic cloak of invisibility, as alleged child p-rnographer Eric Eoin Marques recently discovered. The Tor anonymity network started life as The Onion Router, a project funded by the US Naval Research Laboratory intended to help secure naval communications. Now it's run by the Tor Project, a US-based non-profit with a diverse funding base including the US and Swedish governments, the US National Science Foundation and myriad small donors. What the hell is it?

Images from Tor Project

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5 thoughts on “Crikey Clarifier: how the FBI hacked users of Tor, the ‘secret internet’

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Thanx for this explanation, which I found most helpful. Why did the US Naval Research Laboratory release the Onion Router to the public?

  2. Malcolm Street

    Another thanks for an excellent intro – just what a Clarifier shoudl be. Gavin – What better way to keep track of people who have stuff to hide than to release a “secure” network that you’ve embedded back doors in

  3. Gavin Moodie

    An intriguing suggestion Malcolm, thanx.

  4. himi

    I expect it was a result of the US government policy that all publically funded research should be put into the public domain – one of the things that they get right when compared to the way we do things here in Australia.


  5. Stilgherrian

    We’ve just made an edit to the headline and subhead paragraph of this story to make it clear that the FBI didn’t hack the Tor network itself — at least as far as is known — but the computers of various users.

    As an analogy, the bandits didn’t rob the train, they caught the train to the hidden city and robbed its bank, catching the train back again.

    @Gavin Moodie: Yep, himi has it right. The US NRL is a basic science establishment, so the rules for government-funded academic research apply. They do the science, and then defence contractors secretly use that science the engineer new technology.

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