The Tor Project will soon offer cash rewards to those who discover vulnerabilities in the service, which is used by millions of Internet users to surf anonymously on the web.
Motherboard Tuesday quoted Tor co-founders Nick Mathewson and Roger Dingledine as saying the bug bounty program will launch in 2016 and will be sponsored by Open Technology Fund (OTF), an organization that supports Internet freedom initiatives worldwide.
OTF will pay vulnerability management and bug bounty coordination organization HackerOne to help the Tor Project manage the soon-to-be-launched program, Motherboard reported.
Initially at least, Tor’s bug bounty program will operate on an invitation only basis meaning that only security researchers who have been selected by the group will be eligible for rewards if they find vulnerabilities in Tor applications. Motherboard did not say when Tor would make the program open to all.
Tor’s plans to launch a bug bounty program appears to be a bid by the organization to identify and close vulnerabilities in its applications that could be exploited by attackers to unmask the identities of those using the service. It’s likely that the operators of Tor were motivated by recent reports about the FBI having paid nearly $1 million to security researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to exploit a vulnerability in the platform that led to a large number of hidden service users being unmasked.
The reports prompted a sharp rebuke from Tor, which chastised the CMU researchers for violating the ethical guidelines of security research.
Carnegie Mellon itself denied that its researchers received any money from the FBI to expose users on Tor but hinted that some of its research involving a vulnerability in Tor may have been accessed by the government through a subpoena.
Tor is easily the best known and most widely used identity-cloaking platform on the Internet. Ordinary individuals, journalists, privacy advocates, whistleblowers and dissidents use the service to communicate with each other, to browse the Web and to share information without revealing their true identities. Many consider Tor as vital to enabling information sharing and freedom of expression especially in countries with repressive regimes.
But law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies in the US and other countries have criticized Tor’s service for providing what they have described as a safe haven for terrorists, drug peddlers, purveyors of child pornography and other criminals. The FBI and others have repeatedly pointed to Tor as a prime example of the so-called Dark Web and have called for measures that would allow them greater visibility into the activities going on there.
The FBI’s highly publicized takedown in 2014 of over 400 Tor website addresses, including Silk Road 2.0, that were involved in drug trafficking, counterfeit goods, fake identities, weapons and other illicit goods raised considerable concern about the reliability of Tor’s cloaking mechanisms.
Though the operators of Tor and security researchers have insisted the website takedowns happened only because of operational mistakes on the part of the site owners and not because of any inherent weaknesses in Tor, concerns about the platform have continued to linger.