It's a proof of concept that shows how the agency could use Tor.
Image: Dan Stuckey
A London-based programmer has set up a new hidden service for anyone using Tor to submit anonymous tips to the FBI.
With the new .onion hidden service link ( http://tksgyw4u4t6peema.onion/), which accesses the FBI's tips page through a reverse proxy, Mustafa Al-Bassam told me in an IRC chat that he's engineered a "proof-of-concept," demonstrating how the bureau might go about setting up a more secure system for receiving crime tips.
"Law enforcement won't be taken seriously in the debate about anonymity if all they show is a binary interest to prosecute criminals at all cost," said Al-Bassam, the youngest-ever-identified former member of the hacking group, LulzSec. "Tor has great utility for law enforcement who wish to receive crime tips from public."
Al-Bassam put the project together in response to a self-congratulatory tweet posted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) last week. During the FBI's announcement of its 17-country, multi-agency success in taking down several illicit marketplaces on the deep web—for which the NCA was credited with the arrests of six suspected Silk Road 2.0 administrators within the UK—the agency tweeted:
The tweet of NCA's, using "#Onymous," which by definition means the opposite of anonymous, felt aligned with the agency's, FBI's, GCHQ's, and NSA's outstanding mission to render Tor useless for criminals.
But is the notion of wrecking all-things-anonymous a smart one? Al-Bassam thinks not.
His hidden service is a mere example of what a truly anonymous crime tipping service might look like, but it's still not as secure as it could be. He's brought the FBI's tip submission page to the deep web, but adds no additional security beyond just visiting the FBI's tips page over a Tor connection. But if the bureau were to setup its own hidden service, as Facebook recently did, then Al-Bassam said, it could enable "end-to-end encrypted anonymous communication between the bureau and tipsters."
Though the FBI ostensibly values tipsters' interest in remaining anonymous, it doesn't encourage them. A link on its " Scams & Safety" page takes users who click on "Submit an Anonymous Tip Online" to a generic submission form that then asks for mostly identifying information.
"Hidden services for submitting tips would increase the security and therefore comfort for those wishing to submit tips anonymously," said Al-Bassam, adding that such a service could bring about a "rise in tips, and more effective policing for society."
"I feel that if governments and law enforcement understood what the benefits of Tor and anonymity could be to them," Al-Bassam said. "[O]rganizations such as the FBI would think twice about exploiting and attacking the Tor network as they'd be stakeholders in it."