A section of the internet’s “DarkNet” — believed to have huge levels of child pornography and other illegal activity among its content — has shut down just days after the FBI requested an alleged child pornographer be extradited from Ireland.
The sites run by Freedom Hosting on the Tor network routed users’ web-browsing queries through a series of servers that meant they were untraceable.
Freedom Hosting has been accused of being a major hub, not just for one of the largest collections of child pornography on the network, but also for a drugs distribution network.
The ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous once claimed that 95% of the child pornography hidden on the Tor network was put there by Freedom Hosting.
The closure of the site is being linked to the request by US authorities for the extradition of Eoin Eric Marques, who is described by an FBI special agent as “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet”.
A Maryland state warrant records charges of distributing and promoting child pornography online. The charges relate to images on a large number of websites described as being extremely violent and graphic and depicting the rape and torture of prepubescent children.
The 28-year-old is in custody and is due to appear in court again tomorrow.
It is suspected that his arrest on Thursday was one of the major triggers for the closure of the Freedom Hosting sites.
Another major trigger was the detection of malicious software on parts of the Tor network, which experts suspect was put there by the FBI to track users of any sites which are engaged in illegal activity.
The operators of the Tor network — while stressing that those operating the Freedom Network are not affiliated to them — acknowledged in a statement that the design of its network means “the user can not know where the server is located and the server cannot find the IP address of the user except by intentional malicious means like hidden tracking code embedded in the web pages delivered by the server”.