Russia’s interior ministry has offered 3.9 million rubles (about $111,000) to anyone who can develop software capable of identifying users of Tor, the anonymous Internet browsing platform, The Guardian reports.

Tor conceals its users from probing observers by hiding the origin and destination of information traveling across the Internet. Surveillance and security expert Andrei Soldatov told The Guardian that Russian authorities may be seeking ways to eliminate that kind of capability, and that the public announcement of the offer was a “signal” to the online Russian community that it is being watched. In March the government blocked three major news sites that published work that opposed President Vladimir Putin and in May required that all sites that had more than 3,000 daily visitors join a registry.

The government also recently adopted a law requiring all Internet companies to store Russian user data within the country. Britain passed a similar measure earlier this month. This “emergency surveillance legislation” bolsters the British government’s ability to require that phone and Internet companies retain data and hand it over to the country’s security services.

According to Web entrepreneur Anton Nosik, the 3.9 million ruble bounty will likely do nothing to bring the Russian government closer to identifying Tor users. “The only significance [of the tender] is the money being paid and the PR surrounding it, showing that the ministry of interior is seriously working on issues of anonymising technology, so that everybody’s talking about it. And everybody is talking about it,” Nosik told The Guardian.

More worrying, Nosik continued, was leading communications provider Rostelecom’s investment in technology that would filter Web traffic based on its content rather than its source. Deep Packet Inspection, as it’s called, would severely reduce users’ anonymity on the Web, although Tor should be able to limit DPI capabilities, Nosik said.

Read more here.

— Posted by Donald Kaufman

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