Three intertwined stories have emerged in recent months concerning significant busts, if not mass-arrests, down under on the Internet’s hidden side, aka Tor – the anonymity network. Tor has become the Tannoy of hidden services, synonymous with online dens of drugs dealers, gun-toting hit-men, diddlers, and whackos. If our benevolent and wise authorities and their breathless mouthpiece media are to be believed, that is. We found plenty of whackos under there, that’s for sure. But that’s no different to the open Internet.
The most important of these three recent stories is the one about the FBI ‘acquiring’ the entire unencrypted TorMail database six months ago and how agents are currently pouring over its contents with a fine-tooth comb, cross-matching mined-data with PRISM. This, naturally, is the story that recieved the least coverage in the mainsteam. No big mystery there of course. After all undercover cops aren’t going to be putting it about the Manor that they’ve already got the evidence they need to make a bust before they’ve acquired arrest warrants let alone picked up the perps are they?
Now that the busts have started in earnest, the real story of the hidden network and its seemingly co-ordinated takedown is begining to emerge. The full story will blossom in the form of courtroom testimony from around the Five-Eyes world and their allies later in the year. To understand the background of the long and winding route down the trails and trials of the Hidden Internet, as the story of what may well become the biggest sting operation in history unfolds, we will begin on the not-so-ancient Silk Road.
Apparantly the first to go was the notorious black-market website trading contraband for bitcoin. Siezed by the FBI in October 2013 the site’s online marketplace was replaced by an increasingly common sight, the online seizure notice.
A high-impact visually stunning advertisement, with a dramatic bold red border and superimposed over the taken-down website’s now defunct camel logo. One might even call it triumphant. If you’re in a business where you’re likely to get handed tickets by the cops, you could hang that one on the wall of your cell and be the envy of street punks. Gone are the days of the old “Police Line – Do Not Cross”. At the skankworks.net we half expected the image to link to a YouTube video explaining the consequences of non-compliance. We’ve corrected that for them, click the image to observe.
Next up we learned of the TorMail seizure, long after it happened. This gave agents the ability, if not the authority, to dip into the mail at their liesure and snoop for anything suspicious. Once found, one cannot say “discovered” since that has legal connotations that are at issue here, rubber-stamped ex post facto search warrants are hung as celebratory fig-leafs to cover the agents’ asses. The linked article makes a persuasive case that it was just this kind of surreptious siezure and data-mining of TorMail that provided agents with the identities behind Silk Road.
Ross William Ulbricht, one of those alleged identities currently facing trial on a multitude of serious charges over Silk Road, may well decide to make a case for illegal search. Particularly with the public mood increasingly swinging away from mass surrveilance.
More recently the heavily publicized “Silk Road Replacement” called Utopia, was similarly launched then promptly siezed, this time by Dutch narco-cops. Emulating the Silk Road bust they also opted for a graphical calling-card left on the homepage. It lacks the stylish new-media panache of the FBI, and seems to be rather pedantic in its wording, but that’s kind of typical for the Dutch police.
What initially seemed to be a sting operation is being claimed as genuine by the Politie. That is, that right after the Silk Road was busted and stories started to emerge of just how it was taken down, another group thought they could cash-in on it. Were they surprised when narco cops kicked in the door of their server room a few days later? Most likely they were. Prisons are full of people who got an idea to do something only after seeing somebody else being caught doing it, then spent their prison sentences wondering what when wrong.
Follow the Money
None of this comes as a surprise to those who are aware that the Tor network is 80% funded by none other than the US government. If anybody was foolish enough to believe that the USG would put out a system that they couldn’t tap into, they deserve to get busted.
Did you have a TorMail account? Do you agree that if you were doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear? Then why did you use a TorMail account?
Attackers Compromise TOR Network to De-Anonymize Users of Hidden Services
chillingeffects.org Cease & Desist, and TakedownsTweet