Is TOR Going Down?

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Tor projectEric Eoin Marques, arrested on a warrant issued from United States authorities on online child pornography charges, was called “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet” by the FBI. He was a resident of Dublin, Ireland, and operated hidden services hosted by the hosting company he founded, Freedom Hosting, to host the highly illegal material.

How did he do it? And, more importantly, how did he get caught? Let’s look at this case and see what went wrong, highlighting the issue of the Tor Browser itself.

The Bust

Irish news outlet Independent.ie broke the news on August 3rd that US authorities were seeking the extradition of Marques, a citizen of both the US and Ireland. The four charges: distributing, conspiring to distribute, and advertising child pornography, as well as aiding and abetting a conspiracy to advertise child pornography. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

It was requested he not be granted bail as he is deemed a flight risk. Also, there are fears he may tamper with evidence in the case. Upon searching Marques’s computer, investigators found searches pertaining to the process of obtaining a visa and how to gain entry into Russia. Authorities referred to him as “anonymous,” due to the fact he has no prior convictions, nor has his name ever come to the attention of authorities before. Marques surrendered both of this passports.

Tor

After his capture, a post was featured on the Tor Project’s blog alerting users to the fact “a large number of hidden service addresses disappeared from the Tor Network, sites that appear to have been tied to an organization called Freedom Hosting – a hosting service run on the Tor Network allegedly by Marques.”

But what exactly are hidden services? Precisely what they sound like. Hidden services are sometimes used to run different Web services that fly under the radar – they aren’t detected on traditional FTP and IRC servers. Tor is relied upon by scores of journalists, zealots, and whistleblowers who desire a way to publish questionable material without their name or identity being attached to it.

Some users of the service are completely harmless: the New Yorker, for example, use a hidden service which allows sources to communicate anonymously with its editors. Other users are not so harmless: lists of credit card numbers obtained illegally, fake Ids, and Bitcoin wallet services can be found on The Hidden Wiki’s website along with countless other hidden services, according to Ars Technica.

Freedom Hosting

One of many free and cheap hosting providers offering hidden services hosting, it was one of the worst in terms of content it would host. With a high amount of child pornography sites and Hidden Wiki sites that gave those posting the child pornography and traffickers a way to sell their goods online, Freedom Hosting was attacked by Anonymous in a denial of service attack due to the nature of the material it hosted.

It is believed their servers are part of a bulletproof hosting provider somewhere in Russia or Romania, according to the hunch of the Irish authorities. They noted a large amounts of cash being transferred to accounts in Romania, along with his request for information regarding obtaining a visa to gain entry to Russia. Marques’s excuse: he was helping his friends in Romania who needed some extra money. As for the inquiries into the visa, he claims he was simply curious about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and was just doing some research regarding the topic.