Between half a million and two million people use the Tor network to stay anonymous. Many people think that it is a foolproof way to stay off the government’s radar. However, some new court documents show that may not be the case. The FBI may have access to some Tor servers that many people thought were inaccessible to even the most tech savvy law enforcement officials.
Department of Justice Has Records from TorMail
TorMail was one of the most popular email servers for people that want to stay anonymous. The service was shut down back in August, but many people felt that any emails they sent were still safe from the prying eyes of the FBI, the NSA and other government agencies.
They figured that their biggest concern was finding a new secure email server. Even with TorMail shut down, they figured that their privacy couldn’t be compromised. This technology used 256 bit encryption, which many Tor users believe is nearly impossible to crack. It is also used on servers outside the U.S. jurisdiction. The government can’t possibly access them, right?
Apparently not. Court records show that the government has accumulated a massive stash of emails from the old server.
The Department of Justice has charged a man suspected of selling counterfeit credit cards earlier this week. The records of his case were recently released to the public. They show a number of emails that the man sent through TorMail.
How Did the FBI Gain Access to Tormail?
This sudden revelation was a shock to many Tor users. How was the FBI able to access emails on one of the best encrypted free email servers in the world? U.S. postal inspector Eric Malecki gave an explanation.
Malecki said that the government has paid close attention to Tormail. Not surprisingly, TorMail was frequently used by criminals and terrorists. The government paid close attention to it to trace them. In one investigation in France, law enforcement officials were able to gain access to a copy of a TorMail server. They were able to collect a number of emails on it. These emails included the ones used to indict the defendant in the credit card scandal.
Privacy Concerns Increase
This announcement was a huge blow to privacy advocates using Tor services. They have been especially worried about their privacy after Edward Snowden told everybody about the NSA’s spying on global citizens. A study from Fox-IT showed that Tor users have increased five-fold since Snowden released this information.
Many people were trying to use TorMail and other secure email services to stay ahead of the NSA. These court documents show that no tool can guarantee anonymity in the digital age. That doesn’t mean that Tor can’t help protect people’s privacy. It just means that they are delusional if they think privacy is something that they can guarantee.
Image credit by Camilla Hoel