Two weeks ago the Russia Interior Ministry put out a call for a service that will allow Russian police officers to identify people who use the anonymity tool Tor to browse the Internet. And it’s promising 3.9 million rubles (equivalent to roughly $111,000) to whoever completes the job, reports RT.
The Russian government has long followed Tor, a private-communications project born out of U.S. Naval Research labs that is now independently run. In fact, at one point Russia’s head of Federal Security Services toyed with the idea of banning the site altogether but later scrapped the idea. Now Russia’s Interior Ministry want to be able to identify people who use Tor to browse the Internet.
Tor uses encryption to obstruct access to location and other identifiers, allowing people to surf the Internet without being tracked. Users can also view government blocked sites, publish websites, and chat anonymously. Tor is used by journalists, activists, and of course people conducting illegal activities. In Russia it’s been an especially useful tool against censorship.
Only a small number of people in Russia use Tor, according to RT. But that number is growing. Since May the number of Tor users has more than doubled to 200,000, says RT, citing Apparat.cc online magazine.
The call to decrypt Tor follows on the heels of recent legislation in Russia that will force popular bloggers to register their sites. Bloggers will not be able to write about anything considered to be a “state-secret” or to promote illegal activities. However, bloggers who use Tor are supposed to be able to maintain their anonymity, a lawyer from Russia’s Pirate Party told the BBC.
The U.S. National Security Agency is also working to decrypt Tor, and so are others. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon were set to give a talk at the upcoming Black Hat Conference on how to de-anonymize Tor on a shoestring budget, though it was cancelled.
The Ministry says it will reveal the winner of its de-anonymize Tor bid on August 20.