TECH
06/14/2012 07:35 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2012

The 'Dark Net:' FBI Halts Case Against Child Porn Site (CORRECTED)

By Matt Liebowitz, SecurityNewsDaily Staff Writer

UPDATED: The TOR Project has clarified that it does not in fact instruct law-enforcement agents on how to exploit vulnerabilities in the service, and that its spokesperson was misquoted when speaking to Ars Technica.

PREVIOUSLY: Citing an inability to infiltrate the Web's hidden underworld — the "dark net" — the FBI halted a child pornography investigation, according to recently released documents obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request.

Last September, Jason Smathers of MuckRock submitted a FOI request for any records mentioning "Silk Road," an anonymous retail site, which, as he explained, "is well-known to be an illegal marketplace for items such as illegal drugs, guns, and credit card fraud."

Smathers' FOI request was prompted by a man who, last June, called the Detroit FBI office to report that he'd found a dark net site called "TSChan" which appeared to be hosting child pornography.

[Hackers Breach Porn Site, Give Away Videos]

Silk Road and TSChan are just two of the numerous offending sites hosted on the "dark net," a part of the Internet deliberately hidden from view and accessible only through IP-anonymizing portals such as The Onion Router, known as TOR. For months, child pornography sites hidden on the dark net have been in the crosshairs of the Anonymous hackers. In three separate hacks, all part of its "OpDarknet" campaign, Anonymous has taken down and leaked the personal information of suspected members of illegal child porn sites.

According to the FOI request, the FBI acknowledged the impossibility of tracing TSChan, and halted its investigation.

In the FBI's Complaint/Assessment Form, the FBI said, "Complainant had no other information about who the subjects of the pictures were or who would have posted the pictures. Also, because everyone (all Internet traffic) connected to the TOR Network is anonymous, there is not currently a way to trace the origin of the website. As such no other investigative leads exist."

On Aug. 2, the case was closed without further investigation.

The FBI's unwillingness to delve into the dark net is shocking to Karen Reilly, the development director at the TOR Project, the group behind the anonymizing software. She told Ars Technica, "Saying that you have no leads is ridiculous."

Reilly said the TOR Project regularly instructs law enforcement agencies on how Tor works and how to exploit vulnerabilities in the service to unmask sites suspected of engaging in illegal activities.

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