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There’s a lot of weird and illegal stuff floating around the Internet. To have the latter served up to you on a plate, you need to jump on Tor. Also known as The Onion Server, the browsing method allows you to surf the net anonymously. Created by the U.S. Navy, it was eventually turned into a non-profit organization for research and development.

The network is also a giant portal for the deep web. People use it to access the black market, like Silk Road 3.0, take part in under the table transactions and facilitate sketchy deals. There are countless reasons why the FBI would want to crack down on the network. Recent conflicting reports suggest that the government group did just that, but through Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), a well respected learning institution that has bred hundreds of leaders, from David Tapper to Andy Warhol.

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Peeling the Onion

Tor warned users in the past that its servers are not completely anonymous. This surfaced during a legal case with Brian Richard Farrell, when he was nabbed by law enforcement for the attempt to distribute drugs on Silk Road 2.0. The motion reads:

“On October 12, 2015, the government provided defense counsel a letter indicating that Mr. Farrell’s involvement with Silk Road 2.0 was identified based on information obtained by a ‘university-based research institute’ that operated its own computers on the anonymous network used by Silk Road 2.0.”

The network confirmed that it was the victim of heavy attacks, citing that the breaches were related to Farrell’s case. Based on data gathered from the hacks, the crew knew it came from CMU. Further tips from the tech community support their findings, as well as the Fed’s alleged involvement in paying the school $1 million to break Tor’s servers.

Specifically, the breaches apparently came from CMU’s Computer Emergency Response Team. During the onslaught that lasted from January 30th to July 4th, the team created 115 new nodes on the network. This allowed them to monitor traffic with mind blowing accuracy. In a strange twist of events, the researchers were supposed to present this method of attack during the Black Hat hacker conference. The commitment was cancelled by the school, and the presentation material was mysteriously withheld without reason.

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CMU’s Defense?

CMU could not deny its involvement in the attacks. It didn’t even try to. Instead, the university released a media statement, clarifying its legal and ethical role with the government on fighting cyber criminals. A school representative released the following counter:

“In the course of its work, the university from time to time is served with subpoenas requesting information about research it has performed. The university abides by the rule of law, complies with lawfully issued subpoenas and receives no funding for its compliance.”

So did the FBI work with CMU to hack into Tor? Without an official statement from both parties, it’s not possible to definitively say that they did. But based on the information provided, the community is about 99 percent sure that it went down.

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