Shhh… In TOR We (Can Still) Trust?

The BBC reported over the weekend that some NSA and GCHQ sleuths have been covertly tipping off developers of the Tor network as they were tasked to crack the code and find vulnerabilities in the cyber-tool most hated by the US and UK intelligence agencies, following a BBC interview with Andrew Lewman from the Tor Project.

“There are plenty of people in both organizations who can anonymously leak data to us to say – maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this,” he said. “And they have.”

The Tor network has been favored by those who sought internet privacy and animosity. The free software conceals the location and usage of its users from anyone conducting network surveillance and traffic analysis. In other words, Tor shields one’s identity: It is difficult if not impossible to trace the internet activity of any Tor users. No wonder Tor is championed by the military, political activists, law enforcements, whistleblowers and of course, Edward Snowden.

Unfortunately, given what Tor is, it is also known as the gateway to the “dark web” as criminals and terrorists love it as well.

So it was no surprise when the Snowden revelations revealed both the NSA and GCHQ have been trying to crack Tor.

In fact, the NSA hates Tor so much it was also reported that the agency was not only targeting and cracking the Tor network but it had been taking digital fingerprints of anyone who are even remotely interested in privacy – including fans of the Linux Journal web site and anyone visiting the homepage of the Tor-powered Linux operating system Tails.

Tails-DVD

So what motivated those NSA and GCHQ spies to secretly contact the Tor developers? Lewman had an explanation:

“It’s sort of funny because it also came out that GCHQ heavily relies on Tor working to be able to do a lot of their operations.
“So 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.

Find out more about using Tor from my earlier column.