Darknet Sweep Casts Doubt on Tor: Tor Will Be Defeated Again, and Again, and Again

(by Bill Blunden, via Dissident Voice)

When news broke of Silk Road 2.0’s seizure by law enforcement a lot of people probably wrote it off as an isolated incident. Silk Road 2.0 was the successor to the original Silk Road web site and like its predecessor it was an underground bazaar for narcotics, fueled by more than $8 million in Bitcoin transactions and operated as a hidden service on the Tor anonymity network.

According to the criminal complaint filed against Blake Benthall, the alleged 26-year-old operator of Silk Road 2.0, law enforcement officers caught their suspect using old fashioned police work. Specifically they sent in a mole, or what the text of the complaint refers to as an HSI-UC (a Homeland Security Investigations agent operating in an Undercover Capacity). Anyway, the undercover spy was wildly effective, gaining access to the Silk Road 2.0 discussion forum while the scheme was still in its formative stages and eventually acquiring administrative access to the web site after it launched.

But it turns out that the Silk Road 2.0 take-down was just the appetizer of a much larger main course called Operation Onymous. Onymous, as in anything but anonymous. Within a matter of hours it was announced that a joint operation involving dozens of officers from the FBI, the DHS, and Europol had taken down a grand total of 414 hidden services on the Tor network. This wasn’t just a single bust, no sir. This was a global dragnet that resulted in the arrest of 17 suspects.

The success of this international operation raises a question: how did they locate the hidden servers and identify the people who managed them?

In this instance Tor hidden services failed to live up to their namesake. Was the sudden collapse of several hundred Tor “.onion” domains the result of traditional police tradecraft ─developing informants, patiently waiting for opportunities, doggedly following leads─ or were security services quietly wielding advanced technical methods?

All told the cops are pretty tight-lipped. Wired Magazine asked Troels Oerting, head of the European Cybercrime Center, this very question and he replied:

This is something we want to keep for ourselves… The way we do this, we can’t share with the whole world, because we want to do it again and again and again.

Even with the discretion of insiders like Oerting there have been recent developments that hint at what’s going on behind closed doors. For instance, the FBI has just proposed that the U.S. Advisory Committee on Rules and Criminal Procedure alter federal search and seizure rules so that law enforcement agents can hack into machines that have been “concealed through technological means.” This is no doubt a thinly veiled reference to Tor.

The FBI’s request infers that public gripes against ostensibly strong encryption by officials like FBI Director James Comey, GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan, and former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker are mere theater. The feds already have tools at their disposal to defeat encryption-based tools like Tor. In fact, an internal NSA document admits that “[A] critical mass of targets use Tor. Scaring them away from Tor might be counterproductive.”

Really? I wonder why?

This past summer I questioned the wisdom of netizens putting all their eggs in the Tor basket, as did other writers like Pando’s Yasha Levine. Granted there were protests voiced by advocates, some of which I responded to. Still, the public record demonstrates that Tor isn’t a guarantee against the intrigues of a knowledgeable adversary. And now we clearly see the purported security of the Tor anonymity network unraveled on a grand scale. Not just for one or two illicit websites but hundreds. As to whether it’s possible for an app to safeguard essential civil liberties… the techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley can eat crow.

The reality is that the Deep State’s minions aim to eradicate genuine anonymity for everyone but themselves. The steady erosion of privacy is a part of a long-term campaign to consolidate control as economic inequality accelerates and perpetual war expands. The looming Malthusian disaster born of our leaders’ unenlightened self-interest will be a brutal spectacle and the members of the ruling class want to make sure that they’ll have a good view.

NSA / GCHQ covert online propaganda teams

“Documents leaked by the US National Security Agency whistleblower and published by NBC news Friday detail strategies used by the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group (JTRIG), a spy unit whose existence has been classified, to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” adversaries. The slides [such as the one pictured here], which were used in 2010 and 2012, showed that the JTRIG completed their mission by “discrediting” them via misinformation and hacking their communications.

The leak details two primary methods of attack, cyber operations and propaganda efforts. The propaganda missions include mass messaging and the manipulation of stories on social media platforms like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube.”

(Source)

Computer network information operations slide from NSA talking about propaganda, deception, and pushing news stories via social media to manipulate the public
Note that in their own words they are saying that they are trying to deceive the public, spread propaganda, and psychologically manipulate people on a massive scale. This is not a “conspiracy theory”. This is how they talk about what they are doing in private.
deception, effects, information operations, gchq, covert propaganda
What they are talking about here is a massive program of social engineering, based on deception, where they spread misinformation in the hopes of “making something happen in the real world”. These people are not only liars and manipulators, but they are doing so consciously and deliberately.

You might also want to take a look at the following sites:

* Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media (Guardian, March 2011)

Israeli students to get $2,000 to spread state propaganda on Facebook (Electronic Intifada, January 2012)