Tor Developers Worry about Flaws in the System

The Tor project is currently working on the anonymous browser, but the developers have expressed concern over an intergovernmental operation, which has recently taken down 27 hosts offering “hidden services” or websites that were only accessible via the Tor network.

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That intergovernmental operation, which is actually collaboration between American and European authorities, is dubbed “Onymous” and led to the seizure of over 400 hidden services. Nevertheless, the authorities wouldn’t reveal how they found out the location of the hidden services. The problem is that Tor’s design is meant to prevent these locations from being revealed.

According to the Tor project, in liberal democracies, they should expect that when some of the 17 suspects are prosecuted, the authorities would have to explain to the court how they came to be suspects. Thus, Tor could learn if there are security vulnerabilities in hidden services or other critical online-facing services. The developers admit they are most interested in understanding how those services were located, and whether this indicates a security flaw in Tor hidden services. They are concerned about the possibility of those flaws to be exploited by criminals or secret police repressing dissents.

It is known that the list of websites shut down in the operation included Silk Road 2.0, a successor to the original online black marketplace, Silk Road. This was where both legal and illegal goods and services were sold and bought using the Bitcoin. The operation resulted in the arrest of a total of 17 suspects, with Blake Benthall being accused of operating Silk Road 2.0.

In the meantime, the authorities suggest they found Benthall via a rookie error, claiming that the developer registered the server for the website at his personal email address. Nevertheless, Tor warned that the American DEA and other agencies have built a system of organized and sanctioned perjury, which entails reporting not how they located a particular individual, but merely how they could have done so.

The developers of the anonymous network suggest that such “operational security” errors may have led to website operators being uncovered, but they also address other potential flaws. They believe that an SQL injection attack or other exploitation of a common web bug could have been used, as well as an attack through the Bitcoin network.

However, the Tor developers most worry about the possibility that the hidden services were revealed due to the weakness in the protocol itself. They say that both the number of takedowns and the fact that Tor relays were seized could mean that their network was attacked in order to find out the location of those hidden services. Apparently, the developers have got some interesting data from one of the operators of a now-seized hidden service, which may also prove this.

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