Carnegie Mellon Denies FBI Paid $1 Million for Tor Hack

Following a week of speculation over allegations that its researchers were paid $1 million by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations to hack the Tor online anonymity network, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) yesterday issued a brief statement saying those reports were inaccurate.

"In the course of its work, the university from time to time is served with subpoenas requesting information about research it has performed," the statement noted. "The university abides by the rule of law, complies with lawfully issued subpoenas and receives no funding for its compliance."

The university's response was prompted by comments last week by members of the Tor Project, the non-profit organization that maintains the Tor (The Onion Router) software for private and anonymous online communications. A November 11 blog post on the Tor Project's Web site linked a persistent attack on the network last year to Carnegie Mellon researchers. "We have been told that the payment to CMU was at least $1 million," according to the post.

Shortcomings Enable 'Breaking Tor Anonymity'

Last week's allegations by the Tor Project coincided with a November 11 Vice Media Motherboard report that said information from university researchers enabled the FBI to bring charges of drug dealing and child pornography against two users of the Tor network. The publication said it had reviewed court documents in connection with those cases that showed a "university-based research institute" had helped the FBI identify the defendants.

The article noted that the dates given in the government's documents lined up "perfectly" with an attack on Tor users that had been observed in 2014. Suspicions about Carnegie Mellon's possible involvement were raised after two cybersecurity researchers from the university's Software Engineering Institute abruptly withdrew a planned August 2014 presentation at the Black Hat hacker conference that described their success at de-anonymizing users on the Tor network....

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