A hacking group that calls itself Lizard Squad claimed it was behind Christmas Day outages on Sony and Microsoft’s gaming networks. And now, it says, it has turned its eyes toward anonymous browsing tool Tor.
Tor is relied on by journalists, activists, whistleblowers and everyday people who want to keep their online activities private. It works by routing traffic through nodes known as “relays” that are operated by individuals and organizations around the world — essentially volunteer-run servers that keep anonymity functions working.
Recently it was announced that a coalition of government agencies took control of many Tor hidden services. We were as surprised as most of you. Unfortunately, we have very little information about how this was accomplished, but we do have some thoughts which we want to share.
Over the last few days, we received and read reports saying that several Tor relays were seized by government officials. We do not know why the systems were seized, nor do we know anything about the methods of investigation which were used.
In a blog post written on November 9, Tor Project director Andrew Lewman went over the possible ways that over 400 hidden services on dozens of servers were located by law enforcement during Operation Onymous. While some of the servers were related to criminal activity (such as Silk Road 2.0), at least some of the servers were not—including several that were acting as infrastructure for Tor’s anonymizing network. And the only answer Lewman could currently offer as to how the sites were exposed was “We don’t know.”
That’s unnerving not just to people like the operators of the many illicit sites that were taken down by Operation Onymous, it’s also of concern to anyone using Tor to evade surveillance by more oppressive governments. Activists, dissidents, and journalists, for example, all rely on the same Tor infrastructure
Firefox wants to ensure the possibility of true online anonymity for Internet users.
On Monday, Mozilla — the company behind Firefox — revealed a project aiming to guarantee freedom from online tracking and the ability to browse the Web incognito.
“We want to advance the state of the art in privacy features, with a specific focus on bringing them to more mainstream audiences,” said Denelle Dixon-Thayer, who leads Mozilla’s public policy and legal teams, in a blog post on the so-called “Polaris” privacy initiative.
The software company is working on Polaris with the Tor Project, famous for its anonymity software, and the digital rights advocate Center for Democracy & Technology.