The 200,000 or so Russian Internet users who have signed up with Tor since Vladimir Putin regained the country’s presidency in 2012 might soon have to find new ways of getting around Internet censorship. Under Putin, Russia has increased the Kremlin's ability to control information online, and now, based on the remarks of a powerful politician, it looks like Tor could be next.
“One of the factors in the formation of the Internet environment in our country has become the authority for the pretrial blocking of websites,” Leonid Levin, the head of the Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies and Communications, said in a speech Thursday, as quoted by RBC.Ru. “It allows [us] to block information banned in Russia quickly. At the same time the pretrial blocking of anonymizing services deserves attention, such as access to the anonymous network Tor.”
Tor, which stands for “The Onion Router,” cloaks Web users' Internet activities and physical locations, gives them access to otherwise inaccessible regions of the Internet and provides other services that help people hide themselves online. It’s open to question exactly how safe the software is, but it's clear that Russia is not the only country trying to find out who is doing what -- and where. Originally a U.S. military project, Tor has been a target of virtually every major intelligence agency (including the National Security Agency) and repeatedly demonized by lawmakers throughout the world.
This could mean the Russian government's offer last July to pay $3.9 million rubles ($111,000 at the time) to anyone who could “study the possibility of obtaining technical information about users and equipment on the Tor anonymous network” wasn't successful.
Levin, who also said the state could pursue virtual private networks, expressed frustration that Moscow invests “substantial additional funds” in police and military but lacks the wherewithal to do so online.
Maybe the only surprise about the Russian government's going after Tor is that it hasn't clamped down already. Not content with television and radio, the Kremlin quickly increased its control of the Internet with laws targeting foreign social media outlets, popular Russian bloggers and was recently cited as the possible perpetrator of iOS malware launched against Russia's European rivals.