ANONYMOUS ONLINE NETWORK The Onion Router (TOR) is being targeted by the Russian Interior Ministry, which is offering a bounty of 3.9m rubles (£65,000) to anyone clever enough to crack the network.
The competition, which asks security experts to decrypt intercepted TOR data, has been underway and advertised on an official government procurement website for over two weeks. However, it only just recently became public knowledge after it was flagged by several human rights activists on Thursday.
The tender is open only to organisations rated to do secret work for the Russian government. The "winner" of the cash will be announced on 20 August.
TOR anonymises users online so that they can browse without being traced. It does this by encrypting data and sending it through thousands of randomly chosen servers. While it is used by journalists, activists and by those in oppressive countries, it is also sometimes used for illegal activities.
The TOR network is an anonymising open source project designed to let users surf the internet anonymously and access the dark web, the area of the internet not indexed on public search engines.
It anonymises users' web movements by directing and scrambling internet traffic through a volunteer network of more than 5,000 relays. TOR does make it difficult to be tracked but not impossible. Presumably anyone who is committing crimes online will use more than just TOR to stay hidden, leaving those who use it for good at risk.
It is widely reported that TOR users have spiked from just 80,000 in May to nearly 200,000 this month, probably in order to bypass increasingly strict internet regulations and surveillance.
In May, Microsoft warned that TOR cannot protect internet users from state sponsored hackers and cyber criminals.
Andy Malone, Microsoft most valued professional (MVP) in enterprise security and founder of the Cyber Crime Security Forum, said that despite the robust nature of TOR network, its use of third-party add-ons means that there are still ways to track, spy and steal data from its users.
This came despite revelations that TOR usage more than doubled following NSA snooping revelations. µ
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