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University Helped FBI In Silk Road 2 And Child Porn Busts

According to official court documents, an unnamed academic institution has been providing information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in certain cases, including the Silk Road 2 bust and a child porn case.

In January, Brian Richard Farrell from Seattle, AKA. DoctorClu was busted by the FBI. According to official documents, Farell was the main staff member of Silk Road 2, the dark net marketplace, which has launched shortly after the original one’s bust in October 2013. Special Agent Michael Larson stated in the search warrant, which has been used for the bust of DoctorClu in January that in the time interval of January 2014 to July 2014, an FBI Source of Information (SOI) provided “reliable IP addresses for TOR and hidden services such as Silk Road 2.” There were pretty many places included, such as the main marketplace, the vendor section, the SR2 forum and the support interface.

The information that has been provided by the institute to the feds led to the location of the Silk Road 2 servers, which helped in the identification of “at least another seventeen black markets on TOR”, which refers to Operation Onymous where law enforcement authorities in several different countries took down dark net marketplaces and scam sites on the dark web in a synchronized operation. However, that’s not all the info, the warrant goes by this:

“The SOI also identified approximately 78 IP addresses that accessed a vendor .onion.top address,” it says, referring to the users of Silk Road 2.0.

When Farell’s case was held in the court, the defense made this statement:

“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 defense also asked for more evidence on the academic institute that anonymously provided information to the FBI. After that, the defense made this statement:

“To date, the government has declined to produce any additional discovery.”

There’s no proof to the case, rather just a speculation, however, there might be a chance that the group of relays that were trying to deanonymize Tor users were set up by the same university. The relays have joined at January 30 and were removed by the Tor Project at July 4. This interval was the same when the unnamed SOI provided info to the bureau. Nick Mathewson, the co-founder of the Tor Project made this statement regarding the case:

“If you’re doing an experiment without the knowledge or consent of the people you’re experimenting on, you might be doing something questionable—and if you’re doing it without their informed consent because you know they wouldn’t give it to you, then you’re almost certainly doing something wrong. Whatever you’re doing, it isn’t science.”

Farell wasn’t the only one who had to appear before court for different charges that came from the mysterious SOI. Gabriel Peterson-Siler, who’s hearing was held at November 1, was charged with the possession of child pornography. In June 2014, the same time interval Farrell’s IP address was provided to the FBI, an investigation into Peterson-Siler shown an IP address that belonged to the man. After his house was searched in September 2014, he was charged for possession of child pornography in April of this year, and pleaded not guilty to all charges. Peterson-Siler’s defense requested the same information and evidence on the source that provided the IP address that led to the man’s bust.

It is not confirmed, though, but there’s a big chance that the SOI academic institute was the Carnegie Mellon University, where researchers have been paid at least $1 million by the FBI. The Tor Project published this in a blog post:

“Civil liberties are under attack if law enforcement believes it can circumvent the rules of evidence by outsourcing police work to universities. If academia uses “research” as a stalking horse for privacy invasion, the entire enterprise of security research will fall into disrepute. Legitimate privacy researchers study many online systems, including social networks — If this kind of FBI attack by university proxy is accepted, no one will have meaningful 4th Amendment protections online and everyone is at risk.”

One comment

  1. Yet another reason to use Tor bridges along with anonymous Wi-Fi hotspots. Tails is an absolute must; do NOT rely on Tor alone!!

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