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Tor servers vanish as FBI swoops on kiddie-smut suspect

Reports say user IP addresses revealed, mail down, malware spreading

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Network anonymisation outfit TOR has posted a fascinating piece of commentary on reports that some of the anonymous servers it routes to have disappeared from its network.

“Around midnight on August 4th we were notified by a few people that a large number of hidden service addresses have disappeared from the Tor Network,” the piece starts. “There are a variety of rumors about a hosting company for hidden services: that it is suddenly offline, has been breached, or attackers have placed a javascript exploit on their web site”.

As it explores the rumours, the post goes on to name an entity called Freedom Hosting, and to vigorously dissociate TOR from the organisation.

Distancing TOR from Freedom seems a fine idea given numerous reports, such as this from The Irish Examiner, suggest its founder Eric Eoin Marques has been arrested because the FBI believes he facilitated the distribution of child pornography using TOR. The FBI wants to extradite Marques to the USA.

TOR's not sure if the arrest and the disappearance of some nodes is linked, but is saying “someone has exploited the software behind Freedom Hosting … in a way that it injects some sort of javascript exploit in the web pages delivered to users.” That payload results in malware reaching users' PCs, possibly thanks to “potential bugs in Firefox 17 ESR, on which our Tor Browser is based.”

TOR is “investigating these bugs and will fix them if we can”.

Various forums online, however, report that the malware has spread beyond sites hosted by Freedom. Some suggest TORmail, TOR's secure email service, may also have been compromised, or that the attack means TOR is no longer able to mask users' IP addresses.

TOR's post says it's not sure what's really happening and that it will update users once it learns more.

We'll do likewise. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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