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FBI Admits To Tor Server Takeover

Bureau was accused of using malware to infect visitors to Freedom Hosting sites, to identify Irishman accused of running the world's largest child porn ring.

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The FBI has admitted to taking over Tor servers as part of a takedown aimed at Eric Eoin Marques, 28. The Department of Justice is now seeking the extradition of Marques, who holds dual U.S.-Irish citizenship, on child pornography charges.

During a Thursday bail hearing held in Dublin, supervisory special agent Brooke Donahue told the Irish court that Freedom Hosting hosted more than 100 child porn Tor sites which sported "thousands of members" who had collectively posted "millions of images" involving the abuse of children, reported Ireland's Independent.

Donahue described Marques as being "the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet" and the sole administrator behind the Freedom Hosting service. Donahue also told the court that the bureau found that Marques had visited some of the Freedom Hosting sites that were distributing child pornography, and that before his arrest, Marques appeared to be researching ways of relocating both himself and his servers to Russia, in an apparent attempt to avoid extradition. Marques ultimately was denied bail.

[ How secure are the new iPhones? Read Apple Hackers Rate iPhone 5s Security. ]

Freedom Hosting, which is unaffiliated with the Tor Project, offered Tor hidden service sites. Denoted by an ".onion" domain name, these sites can be reached only via the Tor anonymizing network, and their true geographic location and hosting details are obscured via multiple layers of routing. But at some point in July, Donahue told the Irish court, the FBI seized control of the Freedom Hosting servers, which were being hosted by an unnamed French service provider. The FBI said that Marques had paid for the hosting, using an account at a Las Vegas bank, and that after the FBI took over the servers, Marques managed to reset their access passwords and temporarily regain control.

Marques still faces the prospect of extradition based on charges -- still under seal -- which were filed in July in federal court in Maryland, which is where the FBI's child-exploitation task force is based, reported Wired.

The FBI had already been identified as the likely culprit behind the July hack of the Freedom Hosting site, which was used to make the site serve malware that targeted users of the Tor Browser Bundle (TBB), which is a version of Firefox customized to use the anonymizing Tor network. The relatively benign malware appeared to transmit -- via HTTP -- the unique MAC address of the infected PC, as well as its Windows hostname, reported Wired. That would have allowed authorities to identify the IP address of the PC and unmask individual Tor users.

All versions of the TBB that have been updated since June 26 are patched against the flaw, apparently exploited by the FBI.

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