News from Russia — that bastion of human rights, privacy, internet freedom, and home of Edward Snowden…
The Russian government is offering almost 4 million rubles (about USD $100,000) to anyone who can devise a reliable way to decrypt data sent over the Tor anonymity network. A mounting campaign by the Kremlin against the open Internet, not to mention revelations in the United States about government spying, have made Tor increasingly attractive to Russian Internet users seeking to circumvent state censorship.
Developed as a project of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory more than a decade ago, Tor anonymizes Internet traffic by sending it through a unique configuration of nodes known as an onion routing system. Now in the hands of a nonprofit group, the project continues to receive federal funding but boasts approximately 4 million users worldwide, among them many tech-savvy digital activists in countries where technical censorship and surveillance are prevalent. Even the U.S. State Department supports programs that train foreign political activists to use Tor to protect themselves from the watchful eyes of authoritarian governments.
Tor has encountered problems in Russia before. Indeed, the country’s principal security agency, the FSB, lobbied the Duma last year to ban Tor. Deputies expressed support for the initiative, but it never got out of committee.