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Tor network hacked by Feds, Silk Road turned into honeypot?

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The Onion Router, better known as the Tor Network, is often thought of as being the dark-side of the web. Not least as the anonymity provided by Tor meant that sites hosted on so-called hidden service servers were free to trade in just about anything from drugs and guns through to child pornography. In amongst the depravity and illegal excess, of course, were political activists and dissidents looking for an online safe haven in order to escape persecution, prosecution and potentially death. Revelations that the FBI would appear to have been behind the takedown of Freedom Hosting, apparently responsible for a bunch of hidden services which included alleged child pornography image servers, could be very bad news indeed. Not just for drug dealers, arms dealers and paedophiles but for anyone who has relied upon the multi-layered and encrypted onion network to retain their anonymity.

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Reports as to the extent of the FBI operation fallout on the Tor Network vary, with some claiming as many as half of all Tor sites could have been compromised as a result. And that includes The Silk Road. This infamous site, only accessible through a Tor connection using the Tor browser, has been the online underground drugs marketplace of choice for some years now. Indeed, IT security investigative journalist Brian Krebs recently documented how cybercriminals had used The Silk Road to purchase heroin and have it sent to his home address in a failed attempt to frame him and have him jailed.

Word on the grapevine, confirmed by numerous sources during the last few days, suggests that the FBI were investigating Freedom Hosting on child pornography distribution allegations and employed a NSA security contractor to plant malware on their servers using a known Firefox vulnerability. The Tor browser client being built on a Firefox platform. The malware injected a JavaScript exploit into browsers which was able, in effect, to de-anonymise visitors to any sites hosted on Tor hidden servers. While only impacting users of an older version of the Tor Browser Bundle (an update had fixed the vulnerability issue already) and then only the Windows version, anyone who was doing so could have had identifying information sent back to an IP address belonging to the NSA.

Although I have great sympathy for those groups using Tor for much needed privacy and protection, such as domestic abuse groups as well as the political dissidents for example, as someone who has used Tor myself, and accessed The Silk Road for that matter (I exposed what happens there for a news story in the UK a year or two ago), as well as being a father of eight and grandfather of five, I can't say I am sorry to see those supposedly responsible for distributing child pornography get arrested nor their sites taken down. I am concerned, in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations, as to how much data is collected and what it is being used for here though. That said, I have no sympathy for those selling drugs, guns, stolen credit card details and the like on The Silk Road. Those doing the latter, so it has been suggested to me by a number of people on both sides of the IT security industry fence this week, could find themselves getting a call from the men in black soon enough. The (unsubstantiated) rumour out there is that malware was also potentially injected into The Silk Road, thought to have been hosted by Freedom Hosting, effectively turning it into a honeypot.

A Tor Project statement reads:

The person, or persons, who run Freedom Hosting are in no way affiliated or connected to The Tor Project, Inc., the organization coordinating the development of the Tor software and research. In the past, adversarial organizations have skipped trying to break Tor hidden services and instead attacked the software running at the server behind the dot onion address. Exploits for PHP, Apache, MySQL, and other software are far more common than exploits for Tor. The current news indicates that someone has exploited the software behind Freedom Hosting. From what is known so far, the breach was used to configure the server in a way that it injects some sort of javascript exploit in the web pages delivered to users. This exploit is used to load a malware payload to infect user's computers. The malware payload could be trying to exploit potential bugs in Firefox 17 ESR, on which our Tor Browser is based. We're investigating these bugs and will fix them if we can.

And the latest update, posted yesterday, says:

An attack that exploits a Firefox vulnerability in JavaScript has been observed in the wild. Specifically, Windows users using the Tor Browser Bundle (which includes Firefox plus privacy patches) appear to have been targeted. This vulnerability was fixed in Firefox 17.0.7 ESR. The following versions of the Tor Browser Bundle include this fixed version:

2.3.25-10 (released June 26 2013)
2.4.15-alpha-1 (released June 26 2013)
2.4.15-beta-1 (released July 8 2013)
3.0alpha2 (released June 30 2013)

Tor Browser Bundle users should ensure they're running a recent enough bundle version, and consider taking further security precautions.

The founder of Freedom Hosting, named as Eric Eoin Marques, has been arrested in Ireland and is now awaiting extradition to the USA.

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Davey Winder

I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .

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Anoni
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Don't get ahead of yourself bruv, not everyone was as stupid to put their .onions on the same host. Some of the .onions are self-hosted such as the Silkroad. The only websites that were compromised were those hosted using Freedom Hosting services. Those websites include Tormail, Lolita City, OnionBank, etc. Hopefully no one gets arrested and everyone can learn from their mistakes and start new using a more secure platform where the owner of the web host cannot be compromised or move hosting to North Korea and or Russia...

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Reports as to the extent of the FBI operation fallout on the Tor Network vary, with some claiming as many as half of all Tor sites could have been compromised as a result. And that includes The Silk Road. This infamous site, only accessible through a Tor connection using the Tor browser, has been the online underground drugs marketplace of choice for some years now. Indeed, IT security investigative journalist Brian Krebs recently documented how cybercriminals had used The Silk Road to purchase heroin and have it sent to his home address in a failed attempt to frame him and have him jailed.

I used Tor before (still used) and I still used it but I didn't know about this being investigating by the fed's. That is not good if the government is involved. But I'm glad Fed's did do that. It's wrong that Tor will let something like this happend but it's hard to prevent it because Tor is a proxy. Tor is like a big proxy it's hard to keep track and still a good choice for people like me who wants to be online anonymous.

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