Did the FBI really outsource a cyber attack on the dark net? Tor alleges the Feds paid a US university to attack it
The Tor anonymisation network has accused the FBI of illegally paying a third party to launch an attack on it.
Tor alleged that the FBI paid “at least $1m (£675,000)” to researchers at the Carnegie Mellon university based in Pittsburgh, so they would launch an attack on them.
The claims were made by the Tor Project on its official blog, which pointed to the widespread attack by the FBI in late 2014 which took down dozens of Tor sites, including the drug selling website Silk Road 2.
“The Tor Project has learned more about last year’s attack by Carnegie Mellon researchers on the hidden service subsystem,” wrote Tor. “Apparently these researchers were paid by the FBI to attack hidden services users in a broad sweep, and then sift through their data to find people whom they could accuse of crimes.”
“There is no indication yet that they had a warrant or any institutional oversight by Carnegie Mellon’s Institutional Review Board,” it said. “We think it’s unlikely they could have gotten a valid warrant for CMU’s attack as conducted, since it was not narrowly tailored to target criminals or criminal activity, but instead appears to have indiscriminately targeted many users at once,” wrote Tor.
“This attack also sets a troubling precedent,” it added. “Civil liberties are under attack if law enforcement believes it can circumvent the rules of evidence by outsourcing police work to universities.”
“If academia uses “research” as a stalking horse for privacy invasion, the entire enterprise of security research will fall into disrepute,” it concluded. “If this kind of FBI attack by university proxy is accepted, no one will have meaningful 4th Amendment protections online and everyone is at risk.”
A university spokesman told the BBC: “You can read what you want into it.”
Tor provides anonymity by obscuring the real point of origin of Internet communications, and was in part created by the US government, which helps fund its ongoing development, due to the fact that some of its operations rely on the network.
However, the network is also widely used for criminal purposes, such as operating contraband websites, and it is increasingly being used by attackers to hide their identities as they scan for vulnerabilities or carry out attacks.
In August IBM recommended that system administrators ban access to the network, as it was increasingly used as the point of origin of attacks on public- and private-sector organisations.
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