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Russia wants to break the “unbreakable” Tor network

And they are willing to make you rich if you succeed

Michael Cruickshank
Russia wants to break the “unbreakable” Tor network© 2018 Versus / Wikipedia

Tor (The Onion Router) is one of the internets most popular pieces of anonymity software, allowing users to remain hidden and untraceable while they operate online. Its popularity is based in the fact that the system which the program uses, is widely regarded as being impossible to crack. Now however, somebody wants to change that.

Russia, fresh out of invading Ukraine, is seemingly trying to once again cement its role as the world’s number one bad guy. Including its outward militarism, the country has also cracked down on independent media, and internet activists. In the face of this threat, users have turned to the Tor network in order to evade government surveillance. Not to be perturbed by this, Russia has decided that nobody should be able to hide from their governments, enacting a bounty for anyone able to crack the Tor network.

The Russian Interior Ministry has announced a competition earlier this week to break Tor, with a prize of $110,000 (3.9 million rubles) for any party who is successful. The offer was made with the stated intention to: “to ensure the country's defence and security". Entries will close on the 17th of August.

Image: © 2014 Flickr - Bernt Rostad

Tor itself was originally developed by the US Department of Defence. It utilizes a technique called ‘onion routing’ whereby the IP address of a user is encrypted into multiple ‘layers’. This data is then decrypted stage-by-stage as that information passes through a series of other users who are randomly selected by the software. The end result is a system which is incredibly difficult to break.

With this in mind, it’s highly probable that the Russians will not be able to crack Tor, especially not in a matter of weeks. Despite the system being funded by the US government, its own security agency, the NSA, spent huge amounts of time finding ways to track users of the network, but were nonetheless only somewhat successful. In addition, should some third party discover a reliable way to break Tor, this information is probably worth much much more than the $110,000 on offer by the Russians, leading there to be very little incentive for serious hackers to actually take part in this competition.

Such information is good news for the estimated 200,000 Tor users in Russia, and indeed internet users globally, as once the program is cracked, the method will be very difficult to keep secret.

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