Officials Are Using Carnegie Mellon’s Attack On Tor To Bust Drug Dealers

Two men recently arrested for drug charges in Ireland might represent the latest example of law enforcement officials using the complex research of Carnegie Mellon University to expose the anonymous network of Tor. So far, there have been at least two criminal cases that relied on data from researchers at the Software Engineering Institute of CMU. Now, there could be a third.

New evidence shows that detectives in Ireland used data from the SEI to arrest Neil Mannion and Richard O’Connor on drug charges. The two men were charged with counts of possession of LSD, amphetamines and cannabis with the intent to supply. They were originally arrested in October of 2014 following a property raid in Dublin. In the end, Mannion was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, and O’Connor received three years.

While it is still unknown how these drug traffickers were caught, new evidence shows that Mannion was placed under government surveillance after he received private information about a computer IP address. This is the same type of information that resulted in the arrests of other Dark Net criminals.

In the past, the Tor web browser was predominantly viewed as a way for anyone to hide their internet presence and use the web anonymously. While the presence of an IP address probably wasn’t enough to convict Mannion and O’Connor, it is likely that the attack on Tor by the SEI made this possible.

There are some signs that point to this theory. Mannion and O’Connor were arrested on November 5, 2014, which is the same day that the owner of Silk Road 2.0 was arrested. The arrest of the Silk Road 2.0 head was also likely the result of an attack against Tor. Court documents later confirmed that a university-based research institute was working to expose the network of Tor. This institute was most likely CMU. In addition to Silk Road 2.0, a number of other Dark Net websites were also seized.  

By using information from the SEI, law enforcement officials were about to obtain 78 different IP addresses that had accessed the vendor section of Silk Road 2.0. This section of Silk Road 2.0 was only supposed to be accessed by those selling products on the marketplace. Mannion and O’Connor were both regular visitors of this section of the site, essentially confirming them to be drug dealers.

While the evidence is still largely circumstantial, it’s very difficult to debunk this theory. As more information on additional Dark Net cases becomes available, more should be learned about the attack on Tor by the SEI. But with this case, accessing the internet anonymously might be impossible, even with Tor.