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Russia Offered $110,000 for Research to Identify Tor Users

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August 01, 2014, 11:29:56 AM
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The Russian Interior Ministry has offered up to $110,000 for research to identify the users of the anonymous browsing network, thus again raising questions of online freedom in the Russian Internet. The Ministry has recently published a tender offering the abovementioned sum for “research work, Tor cipher”.

Initially, the tender sought “research work on the possibility to obtain technical data about Tor’s users (equipment)”. The Interior Ministry might be exploring possible ways to restrict the anonymous browser. However, the tender was publicly announced, which means that the forces seeking greater control of the web had decided on their next target and were just notifying the online community.

The security experts emphasize that it is not important whether the government can really block Tor or not – it is all about the fact that they are sending signals that they are watching this. The expected result is that people will start to be more cautious. As for the Interior Ministry, they refused to comment on the issue.

Tor is a network of virtual tunnels enabling users to hide the source and destination of their browsing, while keeping websites from tracking them. The network is used by whistleblowers and people from the areas where access to the Internet is restricted. However, it is also known to be used for criminal activity – for example, by the online drug market Silk Road (before it was shutdown by the FBI last year).

The Internet security experts do not believe that Tor network could be successfully decrypted, let alone for a mere $110,000. Russia is the 5th largest user of Tor, and the network’s popularity in the country more than doubled in June, rocketing from 80,000 users to 210,000. This was caused by a “bloggers law” coming into effect, which required any website with more than 3,000 visitors daily to register with the government.

The famous Russian blogger, journalist and web entrepreneur Anton Nosik claimed he doubted that the Tor research tender would bring any results, saying that the Interior Ministry wasn’t involved into surveilling the web, but was just trying to make a name for itself.

The thing that people should really be worried about is leading communications provider Rostelecom’s investment in Deep Packet Inspection technology. The latter would filter online traffic based on its content instead of its source, thus severely reducing people’s anonymity.

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