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Tor Used To Collect Embassy Email Passwords 99

Posted by kdawson
from the getting-their-attention dept.
Several readers wrote in to inform us that Swedish security researcher Dan Egerstad has revealed how he collected 100 passwords from embassies and governments worldwide, without hacking into anything: he sniffed Tor exit routers. Both Ars and heise have writeups on Egerstad's blog post, but neither adds much to the original. It's not news that unencrypted traffic exits the Tor network unencrypted, but Egerstad correctly perceived, and called attention to, the lack of appreciation for this fact in organizations worldwide.
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Tor Used To Collect Embassy Email Passwords

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  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:01PM (#20557915)
    Why are embassy officials using Tor? Trying to hide something?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Working at a ISP I know for a fact that the RCMP use to monitor the traffic of several embassies with a server installed at the ISP end.
      • Wow. You're claiming, AC of course, that the Canadian Mounted Police have active espionage of foreign governments. That's an interesting claim. Do go on.
        • by Plutonite (999141)
          You think this is far fetched? I have a friend who is an ambassador in the US, and he told me he never talks about anything controversial in the embassy. When they need to discuss something, they go to a restaurant. ALL embassies are spied upon by US intelligence of course. This is supposed to be common knowledge.
        • I think he is confusing the RCMP with CSIS although there is a connection between CSIS and the RCMP and CSIS grew out of the RCMP.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Working at a ISP I know for a fact that the RCMP use to monitor the traffic of several embassies with a server installed at the ISP end.

        I doubt it. Decades ago it would have been the RCMP, but today that falls under the domain of the Communications Security Establishment, not the RCMP.

        The CSE is Canada's version of the NSA. Betcha didn't know that! We're like a grown-up country after all!
    • Legitimizes Tor (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:09PM (#20558095)
      Of course Embassy officials have something to hide. In fact this raises a superb example of one of the legitimate, and useful, needs for Tor. There are a lot of people, mostly in law enforcement, who'd like to see all anonymity, and especially Tor, shut down. And I'm not just referring to Communist China.

      And let us not forget that Onion routing was first officially developed, and published, by the U.S. Navy back in the 90's.

      Now if only Slashdot would allow me to post via lynx through Tor. "Anonymous" my butt.
      • by Goaway (82658)
        Slashdot knows that far more than a tool to promote freedom, Tor is a tool to get around IP blocks when attacking websites.
        • It turns into a denial of service attack for that website on the tor network as a whole. Not terribly scary. Tor endpoints are just a few more open proxies, in the scheme of things.
          • by Goaway (82658)
            Well, that's what you end up doing, but that takes a lot of effort and time, and you have to let the attacker keep attacking to find out what the exit nodes are.
            • by TheGreek (2403)

              [...] and you have to let the attacker keep attacking to find out what the exit nodes are.
              Or you can just use a DNSBL [sectoor.de].
              • by Goaway (82658)
                A nice thought, but:

                We list every IP which is known to run a tor server and allow their clients to connect to one of the following ports:
                25, 194, 465, 587, 994, 6657, 6660-6670, 6697, 7000-7005, 7070, 8000-8004, 9000, 9001, 9998, 9999
                So it seems to be somewhat less effective for web sites, as 80 is not on the list. Of course, maybe it includes most Tor exit nodes anyway, I don't know how many would allow 80 but none of the above.
      • by Sancho (17056)

        Of course Embassy officials have something to hide. In fact this raises a superb example of one of the legitimate, and useful, needs for Tor.
        Yeah, because a VPN to the homeland wouldn't work better.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by varmittang (849469)
      One person already brought up the idea that it could be hackers using tor, and that they are reading the emails of the embassy officials. tor just helps them cover their tracks.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No, I'm sure nobody would have any reason for hiding their true identity on the internet if they weren't doing something nefarious, mister ... InvisiblePinkUnicorn.
    • Like you wouldn't if you were on an island of "soverign territory" in the middle of a foriegn country. Obviously, the prudent thing to do is to let all of your communication with your home country be wide open. How about this bridge I got for you?
      • Um.. just use good ol' AES-256 or whatever? I mean, it's not like the host country is going to be suspicious of communications directed at your home country, so there's not really any reason to disguise the destination.

        I can't think of any good reason to use TOR from an embassy unless you are keeping secrets from your own country. In which case, maybe you ought to consider not committing treason.
        • by osu-neko (2604)
          Ah, you're from that fantasy world where government employees never abuse government power. Alas, most of us live in the world where government employees invariably abuse any power given to them, sooner or later...
        • by cowbutt (21077)
          I can't think of any good reason to use TOR from an embassy unless you are keeping secrets from your own country. In which case, maybe you ought to consider not committing treason. How about OSINT [wikipedia.org] without letting your target know what you're taking an interest in? Still, dumb to leave it enabled all the time (or even have it configured on your 'normal' machine), unless it's an active disinformation programme!
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      Many possible answers... But I think the most likely is that they may not be using Tor, but others already having hacked their account and those may have very good reasons trying to hide their actual locations. I think that's the most likely answer, because if the embassies are as careful as to routinely use Tor, they'd also know what encrypted e-mail is.

      But sure, there's the small chance they do want to hide sensitive correspondence. And actually, I hope they are trying to, for a number of reasons, so it's
    • by JonathanR (852748)
      Since your questions are apparently rhetorical, and structured to imply motives of people who use TOR (trying to hide something), your post is actually dangerously close to begging the question. [wikipedia.org]
  • This reminds me... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:01PM (#20557923)
    ...of a guy in a class I took who had packet sniffed our network, then reported my university e-mail password to me. Why? Because the university refused to enable SSL-secured POP3. A quick email reveals that, in fact, they were never planning to, and that I am just SOL.
    • by Rakishi (759894)
      Meh. My internet connection is inherently insecure although it's free so I don't mind too much. I use ssh to a linux server I own as a proxy for anything that I don't want read by others.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I used the same trick in high school to get around a really annoying filter. This filter would sometimes block slashdot because there were too many curses, "sexual references," or just because the random block feature was active. A quick SSH to a box outside of the school, run w3m (our connection was pretty bad, so I needed to save some bandwidth), and I have the unfiltered web.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Abcd1234 (188840)
          Or just run openssh with the -D option, which sets up a dynamic proxy that conforms to the SOCKS protocol, and then just point your browser at it.

          Assuming, of course, you had access to openssh.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pclminion (145572)
      Heh. When I was in school, people would come to me if they'd forgotten their email password, because they knew I had all of them :-)
    • by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:52PM (#20559109) Homepage
      if you have an account on the box hosting the pop server, and can use ssh, then just forward pop over ssh. Otherwise, that sucks, you're screwed.
    • by symes (835608)
      I overcome my lack of anonymity over email by writing such inane boring tedious drivel to no one in particular so that no one in their right mind could possibly want to read... zzzzz /marvin
    • by Hatta (162192)
      Not much point in that. What he should have done was sniff the admin's email password. Then send him an email with the sniffer log, from his own email address. That'll get the message through.
    • by canuck57 (662392)

      Don't put too much faith in SSL. Yep, even with SSL, someone can play a man in the middle attack on you.

      Use PGP if it is email. But the envelope still must disclose the destination mailbox. But it could be a simple gmail account as the destination as not to give out the recipient.

      IPSec is a better choice for remote services. The only thing you give up there is 2 end points and a byte count.

      If it is anonymous you want, lots of subtle ways to hide messages in the Internet. More than I could count.

      • Yep, even with SSL, someone can play a man in the middle attack on you.
        Assuming your host-based authentication is legit... how can that be done? I thought the whole point of SSL was to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.
        • I'm sure we're all familiar with Dugg's dsniff package which contains the tools to do an SSL MITM attack... getting it to work for a client would, in my untested opinion, require remote penetration of the client computer and uploading of a root certificate which the attacker owns. Alternativly, buying a certificate from Verisign or some other online-certificate signer with the appropriate host name should be more than enough to get a certificate that is useful to the attacker.

          Perhaps there are other aspect
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by turbidostato (878842)
        "Don't put too much faith in SSL. Yep, even with SSL, someone can play a man in the middle attack on you."

        Just tell me how do you expect to launch a MiM attack against a site I got the public key already on hand. Yeah, well, not a valid case for a USA high school where -it's commonplace, students usually reside up to ten thousand miles away from the premises.

        "IPSec is a better choice for remote services."

        Yessir, specially when you only can make one side agree. Surely forcing an IPSec tunnel to any single
        • Try this site for the issue: http://www.css-security.com/downloads/papers/real_life_man-in-the-middle-attack.pdf [css-security.com]

          It does help a little to sign your own certs and inspect them ALL the time on every use. That is, if you DON'T get the pop-up, then you got someone in the middle. Remember this when you are at work, SSL can be decoded in the middle and re-encoded.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by turbidostato (878842)
            "Try this site for the issue"

            Can you please explain what this has to be (a faked root authority) with my question? Remember: I *already* have the site's public key; I don't need to be confident in *any* other third party.

            Even in the case from you article, remember that if your "MiM attack" strategy includes owning my box or the server, that's not a MiM attack anymore.

            "It does help a little to sign your own certs and inspect them ALL the time on every use."

            Wouldn't you find a little suspicious that while vi
  • Heh (Score:3, Funny)

    by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:03PM (#20557961) Homepage Journal
    Of course something originally designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory and then spun off to an "independent pro-privacy group" such as the EFF would have loopholes, insecurities, and unwieldly aspects of it.

    One thing that doesn't make sense to me: why does Tor operate MOSTLY over primary networks with non-tor functions? Doesn't it make sense that people who rely on Tor-offered anonymity would only operate the network bound to a specific NIC, a specific router and a specific network connection, separate from their main non-anonymous one? If anonymity is that important, why even bother trying to maintain an anonymous network connection concurrent with your non-anonymous one, with both utilizing the same single-point of exit/entry?

    Doesn't make sense.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by charlesnw (843045)
      Um. Have you ever used Tor? Did you read the article or even the summary? There is NO MENTION of any vunerabilites in Tor. You are implying that Tor is back doored or somehow otherwise vunerable. This is not the case or what happened here. The information gathering occured via sniffing of an exit router.
      • Re:Heh (Score:5, Informative)

        by kebes (861706) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:59PM (#20559257) Journal
        Indeed. This isn't a problem with TOR per se. If I'm reading the blog post correctly, the security issue he is really identifying is: "don't mix an anonymizer with identifiable actions."

        Quite simply, TOR is a system to anonymize, so that the website you are going to can't tell who you are. (e.g. can't correlate between repeated visits, can't use your IP to track you down, etc.) As long as you a surfing in a non-identifiable way, even the exit node doesn't know anything about you, and can't determine which requests came from you, as opposed to someone else in the TOR network.

        However, if you use TOR in an identifiable way, such as sending a plaintext email (which has plaintext "To" and "From" fields), then you're not using TOR properly. You are inherently exposing yourself, and the exit node can now learn quite a bit about you. If you are connecting to resources without encryption, then the exit node can sniff the data.

        Normally, though, you wouldn't use TOR in combination with a secure site you are logging into, anyway. (What's the point in anonymizing your IP address if you log in with your easily-identifiable username, anyways? The site is obviously going to identify you!) So, really, you should not just turn TOR on and then forget about it, because you shouldn't be sending your email through TOR, nor logging into sites using TOR.

        The lesson to learn from his blog post, which he doesn't state plainly enough, is that you should split your web-usage into categories:
        1. When browsing in a non-identifiable way, use TOR if you want anonymity.
        2. When accessing/logging-in to a trusted resource, don't use TOR. (This includes email, etc.)
        3. If you need to access a specific resource while maintaining anonymity, use TOR but make sure you use strong end-to-end encryption for the entire session (and not merely encryption for the login phase).

        This is, at least, my understanding. Corrections and clarifications are welcome.
        • Re:Heh (Score:5, Informative)

          by HTH NE1 (675604) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @03:33PM (#20559929)
          You can use it in a personally identifying way if what you want to conceal is not your identity but rather your location, or you have a need to communicate securely at your local end so that others at your end won't know where you're going.

          There's a balance to be struck with anonymity and security and where you strike it depends on what aspects need to be anonymous and what other aspects need to be secure.
    • by Veinor (871770)
      So basically, you're saying that Tor is insecure because it can't make clients expecting plaintext understand encrypted messages? I don't think you know how Tor works.
    • by discord5 (798235)

      I'd mod you overrated, but knowing slashdot you'd be modded back up in a couple of minutes.

      First of all, you didn't bother reading the article (yeah, I know, slashdot and all that). The sniffing happened at the exit nodes, which are the last nodes in the chain, which must communicate with whatever the client is trying to communicate. If the server you're trying to reach doesn't speak something encypted, tor doesn't magically make this encrypted.

      Second, unless you're a complete dimwit, you know that traf

  • by eknagy (1056622) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:04PM (#20557981)
    Well, the embassies should have used this new technology called "encryption". I heard that in the future, even browsers will support it...

    eknagy
  • Oh, wait. This is how the feds set up their kiddy porn honeypots...
  • by Sheetrock (152993) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:05PM (#20558025) Homepage Journal

    Tor uses the concept of 'onion routing' to obscure the source and destination of content passed through it. What this means is that, like an onion, content is wrapped in multiple layers of destinations and buried in the ground (or routed) until, after a delay, shoots come up (the headers are interpreted and the onion is passed to another destination) and ultimately the onion is ready to be dug out of the ground (the content reaches its destination).

    Unfortunately, it's possible to tell it's still an onion by the time it reaches your house. And that's what this article is referring to. If you wrapped an apple in an onion (used secure public key encryption) then you have an additional layer of security. That's a whole nother layer of complication, however.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I'd hate to be around when you bake a pie.
    • by Ford Prefect (8777) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:16PM (#20558295) Homepage

      Unfortunately, it's possible to tell it's still an onion by the time it reaches your house. And that's what this article is referring to. If you wrapped an apple in an onion (used secure public key encryption) then you have an additional layer of security.

      You know, not everybody likes onions. Cake! Everybody loves cakes! Cakes have layers!

      ...

      You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. Have you ever met a person, you say, "Let's get some parfait," they say, "Hell no, I don't like no parfait"? Parfaits are delicious.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Encryption is difficult for laypersons? The guy sniffed Web passwords. It's sooo much harder for a layperson to type https instead of http....
      • Does that work on any web page, or does it have to be specifically enabled? How can I know if the connection is secure? And when I click a link will that also use 'https'?
        • Does that work on any web page, or does it have to be specifically enabled? How can I know if the connection is secure? And when I click a link will that also use 'https'?

          For someone calling himself hax0r_this, you are awfully uninformed.

          Of course the webserver (apache or whatever) must have SSL installed, enabled and configured for any (virtual) domains you are trying to reach via SSL. I haven't used too many different Linux distros but I believe it would be safe to say that SSL is not enabled by def

          • SSL is not enabled by default these days as it adds quite a bit of CPU overhead on busy sites (or so I heard).

            Plus, it's close to worthless without some kind of digitally signed certificate proving that your encrypted connection is talking to the website you want to be talking to...

            Otherwise, that dodgy last layer of the Tor cake closest to the website could be talking SSL to your browser, and SSL to the website - but acting as a man-in-the-middle, eavesdropping on everything being said. Imaginatively, this

        • Start with the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]; this is a very, very cursory explanation.

          Sites can use the HTTPS spec to transport data with end-to-end encryption. In short, the server sends you a certificate (a public key, meaning you can use it to encrypt things that only they can decrypt), which you use to encrypt a session key to send back to them, and you've got an encrypted link which is secure between you and the server.

          However, you don't know who the server is; any black hat could be sitting between you and your
    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Maybe the Tor team should stop saying in their explanation pages that they use encryption. They should do like every company, use a near-English word, "Anonimyzation technology" maybe...
      And a little warning in bold letters "Careful ! Tor provides you with anonymity, not secret of the transmission. You should still use encryption to protect your sensitive transfers."
  • by joeflies (529536) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:07PM (#20558075)
    if you voluntary place the said man in the middle?
    • by sokoban (142301)
      I don't know. But it's a good idea. Monitor the unencrypted link of some encrypted traffic in order to find out sensitive information. You can kind of assume that Tor traffic will have a greater concentration of interesting stuff going on than regular internet traffic.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      Yes. I can do a traceroute and know all the Internet hops to a site. But even though I know it's there, if one of those decided to listen in or act as an intermediary it'd be a man-in-the-middle attack. Next question?
  • Lo dudo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:11PM (#20558173)
    I doubt the users from these governments were using TOR to check their mail. More likely that hackers had already compromised the accounts and were using them to check the email accounts anonymously.

    -AC
    • From TFA:
      "These governments told their users to use ToR, a software that sends all your traffic through not one but three other servers that you know absolutely nothing about"

      Also the article says the compromised organizations were warned about the risks of using Tor without encryption, and the warnings were blown off. That doesn't sound to me like any hackers were behind the Tor usage.
  • I would be surprised to find that this is an acceptable policy in most governments. The US government, for example, is pretty restrictive with its systems, and Tor would not be tolerated if you got caught. Sounds to me like the biggest move that needs to be made is reprimanding or firing employees, not policy.
    • by Znork (31774)
      "I would be surprised to find that this is an acceptable policy in most governments."

      I wouldnt. Using Tor would be a very good way to protect various government activities where they dont want anyone to trace sources and destinations. Think infiltrations of web communities, avoiding host-country snooping on various activities, avoiding geographic tracing for field personell, etc.

      As TFA noted, it _is_ policy for various governments specific personell. And it probably works very well against the specific thre
      • by LWATCDR (28044)
        "avoiding host-country snooping on various activities,"
        Why not a VPN using SSH back to the home country and then out from there?
      • by HTH NE1 (675604)
        E.g. the CIA could have used Tor to hide that it was them making bizarre edits to the Wiki page about the Pope (poss. to communicate secret code messages to undercover agents in the field--spookipedia).
  • Unencrypted POP3 logins? Sheesh, even my Grandma uses SSL to check her mail.
  • by rubypossum (693765)
    If governments and embassies are using it then it's likely the system is relatively secure. What's likely to have happened is the Tor code was audited by said government(s) and found to be legit. Then the clueless diplomats were told "Hey, we've setup an anonymous browsing system for you. Browse away." Then the said diplomats go out and start browsing, thinking they're completely secure (i.e. don't need encryption, it's anonymous right?) The rest is history.

    I wonder about the intelligence of sniffing Tor ex
    • by pegr (46683)
      As long as you kept your mouth shut, how would they know? I mean, it works the way it's supposed to... You could gather all kinds of interesting info and no one would have any reason to know you sniffed it...

      In fact, it might be pretty scary seeing what's coming in/ going out a Tor exit node. Think of who might use Tor besides clueless diplomats?
      • Haha, yeah. Let's just assume that he kept logs of everything coming out the ports. He could be arrested by said government(s) on possession of child pornography. I mean, it's pretty likely he's possessing some.
  • and? (Score:3, Informative)

    by tomstdenis (446163) <tomstdenis.gmail@com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:44PM (#20558933) Homepage
    I thought it was common knowledge that most exit routes were owned by the very people, people think they need to keep secrets from.

    Personally, I'm more afraid of some script kiddie stealing my ID than the man listening to my thoughts ... but then again I grew up in Canada, not Bosnia or whatever :-)
  • The summaries don't add much? Really? How about an explanation of what Tor actually is? Ars explains, Egerstad doesn't.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:59PM (#20559255)
    Someone who sits between sender and recepient who exchange unencrypted data can sniff it? Impossible! Stunning news!

    Which reminds me, /. should implement irony tags.

    Seriously, people. OF COURSE that works! Man in the middle, anyone? Where's the big deal? I'm kinda glad someone finally points it out and that it affects some high profile target like an embassy so some people (read: politicians and other, similar entities) will actually realize that this is possible and being done, but the answers here scare me almost more.

    I mean, here, we're supposedly a hint more educated than Joe Schmoe Average Browser, right? News for Nerds is hardly Weekly World News, I'd say. And still, we got people posting tinfoil crap like "Developed by $three_letter_agency" or "of course it has to have holes, it's from the EFF". WTF? Folks? Get a grip. From the exit node to the server it's as unencrypted as it would be from you to the server if you didn't use TOR. That's neither a flaw, nor an implementation error, nor some CIA/NSA/WTF conspiracy. It's simply the way the net works, if you don't use some kind of SSL encryption between the communication partners!

    Sometimes I really wonder...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Seriously, people. OF COURSE that works! Man in the middle, anyone? Where's the big deal?

      I don't think the guy was billing it as some major technical achievement. The news is the sensitivity of the traffic.

      • True. But then, read some comments here. It seems there were actually people who thought this would magically encrypt http traffic.
    • by Alsee (515537)
      /. should implement irony tags.

      It does, 'hestavius tempus malarum lipsum' is a Latin phrase meaning 'irony'. If you check the page source you can find the tag and /tag in initialism form, like RSVP.

      -
      • by Wizarth (785742)
        You got me. I did a search for html tags, without quite thinking about the acronym as a whole. And as a stinger, you say the whole site is in fact irony! Very well done.
  • The problem here is not that people are using Tor, the problem is that many services use unencrypted connections and unencrypted passwords. Tor is merely a convenient way of exposing this, but the problem would exist even without Tor.

    So, don't blame Tor, blame service providers that use unencrypted authentication, and blame people using these kinds of services.
  • ... editing Wikipedia entries ;)

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