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  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation Hacked the Dark Web Again


    There is always a bigger fish...

    U.S. citizen Mohammad Momtaz Al-Azhari was charged in May 2020 with attempting to provide material support to ISIS*. According to the indictment, on May 14, 2019, Al-Azhari visited a site on the dark web that hosted materials related to ISIS several times.

    Due to the fact that the dark web is based on the anonymous Tor network, neither the site owner nor third parties can determine the real IP address of any of the site visitors.

    Yet that is exactly what the FBI somehow managed to do. The investigation revealed that Al-Azhari visited the ISIS website from an IP address associated with his grandmother's house. The FBI also found out exactly which pages Al-Azhari visited and provided a list of them in official documents of the investigation.

    However, when the defense side of Al-Azhari requested information on how exactly the address of the computer from which the site was visited was determined, the prosecution refused to provide this information. What's more, DOJ lawyers are doing their best to prevent public discussion of the issue.

    “During the trial, the government refused to release any information related to his work on Tor,” wrote Samuel E. Landes, a defense attorney working on the case.

    The Justice Department continues to carefully cover up the use of hacking tools despite their growing popularity in a wide range of criminal investigations. A side effect of this secrecy is that the defendants do not have access to the details of exactly how they were identified. That is, they are unable to effectively challenge the legal basis for their detention.

    In some cases, even the prosecutor's office has no chance of a guilty verdict, because keeping the tools secret is considered more important than winning the case. In 2015, for example, the FBI hacked into thousands of visitors to a child abuse website. Although the operation eventually resulted in many convictions, prosecutors refused to comply with the court order to release the exploit code. In response, the judge dismissed the evidence, closing the case.

    Landes points out that the FBI's use of network investigative techniques (NIT) is far from a secret. According to him, these methods have been used in many investigations over the years. Landes also claims that he himself found similar cases in the public domain mentioning NIT. “Despite the public availability of this information, the government asked the court to treat the coercion petition as a very secret document,” Landes writes.

    Author DeepWeb
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