Renegade NSA, GCHQ spies help fix Tor vulns, claims project boss

As one hand smashes, the other hand soothes

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

GCHQ and NSA cyber-spooks secretly report vulnerabilities in Tor so they can be patched, a leading developer of the anonymity-preserving software has claimed.

Andrew Lewman, the Tor Project's executive director, claimed that some spies place a higher priority on fixing flaws in the privacy-preserving technology than keeping secret bugs that might help their colleagues' "dark web" surveillance efforts.

"There are plenty of people in both organisations who can anonymously leak data to us to say - maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this," Lewman ‪told‬ the BBC. "And they have."

Systems to submit bugs in Tor are designed to protect the privacy of tipsters so, as Lewman admits, he's unable to prove who sent them in. Lewman explained that his "hunch" that cyberspies are leaking information about bugs and design issues in Tor because of the deep insight implicit in some vulnerability reports.

"You have to think about the type of people who would be able to do this and have the expertise and time to read Tor source code from scratch for hours, for weeks, for months, and find and elucidate these super-subtle bugs or other things that they probably don't get to see in most commercial software," Lewman elaborated.

Both NSA and GCHQ declined to comment on Lewman's suspicions.

TOR blimey

Leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA hoovers up Tor traffic for analysis, as well as constantly looking for vulnerabilities that would allow it to unmask the identities of people using the anonymization technology.

The NSA has directly targeted users of the anonymity network for surveillance. More recently it emerged that someone - circumstantial evidence suggests it was researchers from Carnegie Mellon University – were trying to de-anonymize users of Tor hidden services.

These efforts are far from isolated. Earlier this month it ‪emerged‬ that the FBI was using "drive-by downloads" in an attempt to unmask child abusers that made use of Tor.


Tor – The Onion Router – was originally developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory. The US State Department continues to provide funding for the technology, which is used by human rights activists, the military and business to preserve their anonymity while surfing the web and accessing online services.

Tor is also used for all manner of unsavoury enterprises, including the sale of illegal drugs, malware distribution, and hosting images of child abuse. It has also been used as a communication channel for everyone from terrorists to spies.

"GCHQ heavily relies on Tor working to be able to do a lot of their operations," according to Lewman. "You can imagine one part of GCHQ is trying to break Tor, the other part is trying to make sure it's not broken because they're relying on it to do their work," he added.

A transcript of Lewman's interview with the BBC can be found ‪here‬.

Tor supports about 2.5 million users a day. Its browser technology has been downloaded 150 million times in the last 12 months.

‪Earlier this week iSec Partners‬ delivered recommendations on Tor Browser hardening, based on a ‪study‬ of the anonymity-protecting technology. ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story


Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.