Skip to main content

Think you can crack TOR? The Russian government wants to give you 4m rubles

Russia's government has issued a 4 million rubles (about £60,000) bounty to anyone who cracks the Tor anonymity network's encryption protocols.

Tor, which began as a secret project from the US Naval Research Laboratory, works by piling up layers of encryption over data, nested like the layers of an onion, which gave the network its original name, The Onion Router (TOR).

Tor encrypts data, including the destination IP address, multiple times and sends it through a virtual circuit made up of successive, randomly selected relays. Each relay decrypts a layer of encryption to reveal only the next relay in the circuit.

The final relay decrypts the innermost layer of encryption and sends the original data to its destination without revealing, or even knowing, the source IP address.

The American National Security Agency (NSA) has made considerable efforts in the past to crack the encryption protocols behind Tor, but to limited success. Instead, they've just banked on tracking everyone who uses it, or even searches about it on Google.

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been cracking down on various Internet freedoms, and reducing the scope for anti-government protesters to operate online.

In fact, Tor has encountered problems in Russia before. The country's principal security agency, the FSB, lobbied the Duma last year to ban Tor, but while deputies expressed support for the initiative, it never got out of committee.

However, the government's issues with Tor could also have to do with legitimate police concerns. Tor is a favoured haven of drug users, terrorists, smugglers and distributors of child pornography.

The £60,000 (a relatively small amount of money by global industry standards) is being offered not by the FSB but the Interior Ministry, which is more interested in fighting child pornography than anti-Putin dissidents. However, breaking the encryption protocol would certainly endanger those who use the network for political protest.