New study aims to find types of hidden sites on Tor, but warns against drawing too many conclusions
A new study suggests the majority of traffic to hidden sites on the Tor network is to those featuring images of child abuse.
Dr Gareth Owens from the University of Portsmouth set up servers designed to catalogue the types of service hidden on Tor and how many visits each one received over the course of six months.
Tor is popular among those wishing to use the web anonymously, but around 1.5 percent of all traffic on the network each day is directed towards hidden ‘.onion’ sites. Owens’ study found 80,000 such sites but most were only seen once before being removed.
Tor child abuse
The top 40 sites featured botnets but the biggest number of hidden services involved illegal drugs, followed by underground markets, fraud sites, mail services and those dealing in Bitcoin. The number of child abuse services was relatively small, but these attracted 75 percent of all hidden site traffic.
Owens said this was surprising but warned against drawing too many conclusions from the findings as it was unclear who was behind all the visits. Some of the traffic could have been caused by law enforcement agencies attempting to police such activity, for example.
Roger Dingledine, one of the Tor network’s original developers, told the BBC that the study only scanned long-lived sites to see what content they offered, making it difficult to determine anything concrete.
“Without knowing how many sites disappeared before he got around to looking at them, it’s impossible to know what percentage of fetches went to abuse sites,” he told the broadcaster. “There are important uses for hidden services, such as when human rights activists use them to access Facebook or to blog anonymously. These uses for hidden services are new and have great potential.”
Earlier this year, it was claimed that researchers funded by the US government had launched a five month attack to unmask Tor users, while the Russian government is also supposedly keen on finding ways to eavesdrop on the network. However tor claims that employees of the NSA and GCHQ anonymously leak information to the project to protect it from attempts by governments to find a vulnerability.
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