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Bad News For Tor's Legitimacy
It's not a fully survey of the entire Tor network, but it's still a bad result. Also note the Tor Project's weak technobabble attempt to dismiss this research.
Quote:As part of their research, the pair scraped Tor hidden services and analysed their content to build up a picture of what sort of services are hosted on the so-called dark web.

“The database analysis brought to light the overwhelming presence of illicit content on the Tor darknet,” they write.

Over a five week period, the pair found 5,205 live websites, 2,723 of which they were able to classify by content. Of those, 1,547 hosted illicit material—around 57 percent.

Moore told Motherboard in a phone interview that one of the purposes of the research “is to introduce some new perspective that is somewhat moderate” to the debate on encryption.

Encryption is often a polemic issue. On one side of the debate government officials call for sweeping powers to decrypt communications in order to catch criminals, despite the risks to everyone else’s data; on the other side, activists may support encryption tools without acknowledging their potential for abuse.

“We wanted to introduce a more nuanced discussion, and to stake out the middle ground between those two extremes, because obviously they can't both be right,” Rid added.
“We don't make any statements about the entire contents of Tor,” Moore said. “We just looked at what is the reasonable offering of hidden services to most users.” He added that it was of course possible there are additional hidden services that they did not come across.

“We went for what a user can actually see and interact with,” Moore said.

The paper concludes that. "Tor's ugly example should loom large in technology debates. Refusing to confront tough, inevitable political choices is simply irresponsible. The line between utopia and dystopia can be disturbingly thin."

Kate Krauss, spokesperson for the Tor Project, told Motherboard in an email, “The researchers seem to make conclusory statements about the value of onion services that lie outside the scope of their research results. Onion services are a tool with unique security properties used for a wide range of purposes: They are self authenticated, end-to-end encrypted, and offer NAT punching and the advantage of a limited surface area.”
The Tor Project declined to answer questions about the methodology used by Moore and Rid.

In all, this latest research provides a deeper, empirical basis for discussion around Tor hidden services, and perhaps encryption more generally.

Rid hopes that the research “will make it more difficult for anybody to just make these wholesale, rather disappointing statements about encryption. We're just beyond that point.”
Quote:Some good news, and some bad. The good news: A new study from Harvard University claims that encryption technology doesn’t actually hurt the government’s ability to identify and track terrorists. The bad news: That’s really only because encryption is new, weak, and poorly implemented. And the really bad news? Even the pro-privacy steps that are working are more than offset by the unthinking march toward a ubiquitous Internet of Things. The researchers gave it the bracing cover-page seen above — but in reality the picture isn’t nearly as rosy as they pretend.

A few days ago, a separate high-profile study found that the Deep Web is riddled with criminal activity. That’s certainly not a shocking finding, but one that finally quantifies something law enforcement has been saying for a long time: While encryption and other anonymity technologies may have legitimate uses for journalists, activists, and others, the bulk of the user base is using the technology to avoid the attention of law enforcement. Not that it necessarily matters from a civil rights perspective, but the study found that the anonymity of the Deep Web really is most appealing to the criminal element. It’s a simple fact that technology can in principle make criminals safer, and law enforcement more difficult.
Here comes the damage control. Note the relatively tiny sample size: a mere 400 versus the 2,723 of the King's College London study. Who wants to bet that this so-called "study" is a cherry-picking puff piece paid for by the Tor Project?

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