Aussie coppers think it is “fair dinkum” to hack US Tor sites to uncover crime rings.
The hack was part of a child pornography investigation and the Aussie antics have appeared in US court documents. In one case, Australian authorities remotely hacked a computer in Michigan to obtain the suspect’s IP address.
What is interesting was that the coppers have no juristiction in the US and little in the way of legal rights.
“The Love Zone” was a prolific dark web child abuse site, where users were instructed to upload material at least once a month to maintain access to the forum. By July 2014, the site had over 29,000 members, according to US court documents, constituting what the US Department of Justice described as a “technologically sophisticated conspiracy”.
In 2014, Queensland Police Service’s Task Force Argos, a small, specialised unit focused on combating child exploitation crimes, identified the site’s Australian administrator and quietly took over his account. For months ran the site in an undercover capacity, posing as its owner.
Because The Love Zone was based on the dark web, users typically connected via the Tor network, Argos could see what the users were viewing, and what pages they were visiting, but not where they were really connecting from. So they hacked some of the users to get their real IP addresses and unmasked the IP addresses of many of those who used the site.
They then handed over the evidence against more than 30 uses to the FBI who arrested the local users. Apparently this involved phishing attacks claiming to be from the site using kiddie porn as bait.The code behind the movie would send the users IP address to the authorities.
But all this had to have been done without a warrant, and Australian Federal Police (AFP) have said that the AFP was not aware of, or involved with this operation..
Whether using a hacking tool to grab the real IP address of a Tor user constitutes a search in a legal sense has recently become a contentious issue in the US. Several judges have said that suspects do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy around their IP address when using the Tor network, meaning that it is not protected by the Fourth Amendment, and a hack grabbing it would not require a warrant. The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks otherwise