Plans by the Russian government to unmask its citizens who use the Internet anonymity network Tor seems to have hit a brick wall. This is after reports emerged that the company that had been hired by the Kremlin administration was reported to have hired a law firm to help it back out of the contract to unmask Tor.
The Russian government was willing to part with nearly $60,000 (3.9 million rubles) to have Tor cracked. Tor is a popular tool that is used to communicate anonymously across the internet. Now, it is emerging that the company which won the contract is ready to spend more than twice the amount it was to be paid by the government to abandon the Tor project.
The tender had been earlier won by the Central Research Institute of Economics, Informatics and Control Systems, which is a Moscow branch of Rostec -the state-managed manufacturer of weapons, helicopters and other industrial and military equipment. The company is willing to pay up to 10 million rubles (equivalent to some $150,000) to contract a law firm to negotiate a way out of the contract. This is according to state-purchase disclosures database.
According to leaked government documents, lawyers from Pleshakov, Ushkalov and Partners are working with Russian officials to put an end to Tor research project.
In 2014, the Interior Ministry of Russia posted a contract on its website looking to find a group that would study whether it was possible to obtain technical information not only on users but also on the user’s equipment of the Internet anonymity network Tor. A spokesman for Interior Ministry department which placed the Tor project order declined to give a comment when contacted. Also, the Rostec research group did not comment on the matter.
This has not gone down well with Russian authorities especially considering that it is not a huge fan of Internet freedom. And it does not help that the use of the Internet anonymity software is growing in popularity within its borders. The Russian government has put in place draconian censorship laws that effectively stifle Internet privacy.
Judging by the latest developments, it appears Tor is very much secure. Although some strides have been made with regard to gleaning information from Tor network, anonymization has not been a complete failure.
It was never going to be easy for any company to unmask Tor. The government of the US, as well as other nations, has spent much more money to sponsor the building of Tor network. In fact, lots of intelligence agencies would part with a lot more just to access data running over the anonymous network.
About Internet Anonymity Network Tor
Tor, which is just an acronym for The Onion Router, is Internet anonymity software which sends the network traffic of each user to various nodes all over the globe. In so doing, it encrypts the data at every layer, thus making it nearly impossible to track. The network has been embraced by political dissidents, criminals and hackers the world over. Edward Snowden, who is an erstwhile U.S. intelligence contractor and currently living in Russia, is a known admirer of Tor. The number of people using the network in Russia has grown by 40% from the start of this year to reach more than 175,000 users. This is according to data provided by Tor project, the developer of the service.
Using the Internet anonymity software makes it much more impossible to track online connectivity back to the user. In other words, web visits, instant messages, online posts as well as other communication forms to untraceable. The use of Tor is meant to users’ personal privacy, as well as their ability and freedom to communicate confidentially by keeping their Internet activities from monitoring. The US National Security Agency characterized Tor as “King of high-secure Internet anonymity.” In fact, the NSA adds that there are no contenders to that throne in waiting. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology described Tor as the most popular anonymous Internet communication system by miles. It currently has an estimated user population of 2.5 million people daily.
According to the July 2015 NATO analysis, the world should brace itself for the use of Internet anonymity tools such as Tor as they will only continue to thrive.
People use Tor to prevent their websites from being tracked, to connect to news websites or to access instant messaging service when they are blocked by local Internet providers. By using Tor’s hidden tools, users will be able to publish to websites as well as other services without requiring disclosing their sites’ location. People also use the network for socially sensitive communication.These include web forums and chat rooms for survivors of rape and abuse, or for individuals with illnesses.