Russian government seeks to cancel contract to crack Tor
Tue 24 Nov 2015
The Russian Ministry of the Interior is seeking legal recourse to truncate an apparently failed contract with a Russian state corporation to crack TOR.
In September, according [Russian language] to Russian newspaper Kommersant, the Ministry filed a suit at the Moscow Arbitration Court to terminate its remit to Moscow-based non-profit defence technology company Rostec, who had not succeeded, within a specified time-frame, in reliably breaking the encryption protocols that have made The Onion Router one of the most effective methods of anonymisation and encryption in the history of espionage.
However the legal move has been interpreted not as a sign of abject failure on the part of Rostec, but rather as a bid to drive down price on a contract which has been described as ‘multi-layered’, and not all of which is directly affected by any eventual legal judgement in favour of the Ministry. Vladimir Pleshakov, a lawyer employed by the legal firm that Rostec retains that the Russian government “just wants to bring down the price of the contract or claim a penalty”. And actually the contract, worth 39 million Russian Roubles, between the Russian government and Rostec will continue, in spite of the suit.
The fact that these potentially cost-saving legal manoeuvres centre around deadlines and not ‘failure’ lead to the question of how far along the goal to defeating Tor Rostec have actually got. Russia is the third-largest user by-country of the Tor browser, and the semi-evasive suggestions of progress emerging from reports could equally be propaganda designed to deter users from encrypting their communications in this way (a practice that Russian authorities has set itself firmly against, apparently in the interests of national security).
In September the Leninsky District Court of the city of Penza successfully brought charges regarding ‘drug propaganda’ against Andrei Karuseva after allegedly having tracked the defendant down in spite of his usage of Tor to mask his tracks. However experts doubt that even the most dedicated and well-funded efforts are likely to have reliably compromised Tor’s security in so short a time. InfoWatch’s deputy director Rustem Khayretdinov, talking to Kommersant, suggested that “user negligence” could well be a contributory factor to such successes as Russian authorities may appear to have had in deanonymising Tor users.
To an extent, as in analogous situations in China, Russia is litigating with itself in this matter; Rostekhnologii, later Rostec, was formed in 2007 by Vladimir Putin’s federal decree to consolidate 437 Russian tech entities – many failing – into the state-protected institute, initially at a loss of 630 billion Roubles.