German police seize 'anonymizing' Tor servers

Police block an undisclosed number of servers during a crackdown on Internet pornography

In a crackdown on Internet child pornography, German police detected several servers running a copy of Tor, a software designed to anonymize Internet usage.

"We seized or blocked an undisclosed number of servers during a raid, which is still underway," Jens Gruhl, a spokesman for the public prosecutors office of Konstanz, Germany, said Monday. "A few of these computers had installed copies of Tor."

Users of Tor software in the country, worried about an unexpected visit by the police, have decried the move in a flurry of blogs.

"This situation is disturbing, really disturbing," wrote Alexander Janssen, from Düsseldorf, Germany, in a blog post. "I run a Tor server myself and the last thing I want to experience is the police kicking down my door [and] seizing my computer."

Gruhl said German crime officials are not specifically searching for servers running Tor but for servers distributing child porn. "That fact that police discovered copies of Tor is coincidental, not intentional."

In his blog, Janssen reckoned that the seized servers were configured to be so-called Tor "exit nodes," allowing their IP (Internet Protocol) addresses to show up in the server logfiles in question.

Tor was created to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that "threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships and state security," according to the Web site

The software bounces communications around a distributed network of servers, called onion routers, protecting users from Web sites that build profiles of their interests, local eavesdroppers that read data or learn what sites they visit, and even the onion routers themselves.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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