Russia's spybosses are contemplating blocking access to the Tor network and similar privacy tools that try to prevent netizens from being traced online.
The proposal - pushed by Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (the FSB) - sets out a clampdown on technologies top spooks branded tools for "weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters".
FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov outlined his hopes of banning the use of Tor in Russia at a session of the motherland's National Anti-Terrorism Committee: he said his agents could work with Russian cops and other security bodies to draft legislation outlawing the network, according to a report in daily broadsheet Izvestia.
The initiative emerged after Head Hunters, a Russian civil movement, lobbied the FSB to block Tor because the technology can be used to circulate and exchange images of child abuse anonymously. (And earlier this month, a man was arrested in Ireland after the FBI alleged he was "the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet". It's believed he ran an ISP that provided server nodes for the Tor network.)
Tor is widely used by privacy-conscious individuals, human rights activists and others to remain anonymous online: it works by randomly routing connections between the user and a website, or other service, through a huge mesh of nodes so that the person cannot be traced, in theory. Many countries, including China, have tried to stamp out use of the technology but this is technically difficult, though perhaps not completely impossible.
Blocking Tor is "not trivial, but if they're not too bothered about accidentally blocking the odd connection that just looks like Tor, it's possible," Martijn Grooten, Virus Bulletin's anti-spam test director told El Reg. "Tor is working hard to make their traffic look 'normal' so it's a cat-and-mouse game."
Blocking Tor and anonymising proxies would intensify Russia's already tight surveillance and censorship regime as well as setting up a precedent for other countries to follow. SORM, the Russian internet and phone surveillance system, is every bit as far reaching as any of the tools the NSA has at its disposal, albeit far less publicised than PRISM and related US programmes. ®