Monday, February 13, 2017

Major Tor & Darknet Major Privacy Update, Gov’t Investigations Struggle

The Tor Project, a non-profit organization established to provide increased privacy and anonymity to billions of internet users, is set to roll out major privacy updates in the upcoming months which will obstruct active government and law enforcement investigations.

Over the past few years, government and law enforcement agencies including Interpol and the FBI have conducted various investigations to crack down on darknet marketplaces distributing illicit products such as illegal drugs. Yet, most dark web traders remain active as Tor effectively conceals the identities of dark web platform operators and hides traces of websites.

Since it is virtually impossible for anyone in the Tor network to discover geographical locations of darknet traders, the FBI and Interpol have consistently carried out undercover investigators by disguising law enforcement agents as potential clients and leading darknet drug distributors to reveal their identities.

This method of investigation has proven to be effective across the world, as reported by DeepDotWeb since early 2016. In November of last year, DeepDotWeb revealed that a Belgian native Stijn V was arrested for distributing chemical drugs on the darknet by an undercover agent who approached the 25-year-old Belgian as a consumer.

However, the series of updates the Tor Project plans to roll out within this year is presumed to significantly impede police investigations on the darknet, mostly due to additional encryption and strengthened privacy features that will be introduced coherently with alternative solutions included in the updates.

One major update is the introduction of the private darknet website feature, which allows users to create websites or marketplaces in the dark web that are only accessible by users handpicked by operators. To gain access to these hidden websites, users will have to receive strands of unpredictable characters directly from operators.

Speaking to Wired, Tor Project co-founder Nick Mathewson stated:

“Someone can create a hidden service just for you that only you would know about, and the presence of that particular hidden service would be non-discoverable. As a building block, that would provide a much stronger basis for relatively secure and private systems than we’ve had before.”

Previously, in the Tor network, it was possible to discover unravelled Onion web addresses. Users were permitted to search for websites or darknet marketplaces that haven’t been disclosed before.

But, this level of transparency isn’t necessary in a network like Tor, wherein privacy and anonymity are strong priorities for users. Instead of maintaining a network darknet marketplaces and dark websites that are discoverable, the Tor Project team and its Mathewson came to a consensus to develop the next generation network in which users will only be able to access websites that they already know.

One method of establishing direct connection between a dark website and a user is through the usage of unique cryptographic keys. Instead of publicizing the Onion address of dark websites, operators can share the unique cryptographic key derived from the Onion address to a hidden service directory. Users then can use that key to match the dark website they plan to visit and access it more privately.

John Brooks, the creator of the Tor-based chat program Ricochet stated:

“The only people who should know about your hidden service are the people you tell about it.”

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