Photographer: Denis Sinyakov/AFP via Getty Images

Russia’s Plan to Crack Tor Crumbles

The group that won the government contract is abandoning the project.

The Kremlin was willing to pay 3.9 million rubles ($59,000) to anyone able to crack Tor, a popular tool for communicating anonymously over the Internet. Now the company that won the government contract expects to spend more than twice that amount to abandon the project.

The Central Research Institute of Economics, Informatics, and Control Systems—a Moscow arm of Rostec, a state-run maker of helicopters, weapons, and other military and industrial equipment—agreed to pay 10 million rubles ($150,000) to hire a law firm tasked with negotiating a way out of the deal, according to a database of state-purchase disclosures. Lawyers from Pleshakov, Ushkalov and Partners will work with Russian officials on putting an end to the Tor research project, along with several classified contracts, the government documents say.

Last year, Russia’s Interior Ministry posted a contract seeking a group “to study the possibility of obtaining technical information on users and users’ equipment of Tor anonymous network.” A spokesman for the Interior Ministry department that placed the Tor order declined to comment on Tuesday. The Rostec research group declined to comment.

Tor, an acronym for “the onion router,” is free software that sends each user’s network traffic across various nodes around the globe, encrypting it at every layer, and making it extremely difficult to track. Tor has been adopted by hackers, criminals, and political dissidents worldwide. Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor currently living in Russia, is an avid Tor supporter. The number of users in Russia has jumped about 40 percent from the beginning of the year, to more than 175,000, according to data from the Tor Project, which develops the service. The Tor Project, a nonprofit funded in part by the U.S. government, had $3.53 million in revenue in 2013, the last year it reported financials on its website.

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