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Facebook Now Allows Access Via The Deep Web

Facebook Now Allows Access Via The Deep Web

In an interesting turn of events, Facebook announced today that it is allowing access to its platform via a deep web service commonly known as TOR.  If you are not familiar with the Tor network, it allows users to hide their identities online. The Tor network if well known for the Silk Road, a web site that sold drugs, guns and other illegal items via the deep web.  In October 2013, Ross Ulrich the alleged mastermind behind the website, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and subsequently charged with narcotics trafficking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identification documents and distribution of narcotics by means of the Internet. His trial is set to begin November 3rd.

So what does this mean for the Silicon Valley giant? And why has the company taken this approach given that at one time, Facebook blocked Tor users attempting to connect to the site.  And what is Tor and how does the Tor network work?

So what is Tor?

Tor is short for The Onion Router and was initially a worldwide network of servers developed with the U.S. Navy that enabled government employees to browse the internet securely and anonymously. Now, it's a non-profit organization, which coincidentally still receives some funding by the government and whose main purpose is the research and development of online privacy tools.

The Tor network disguises your identity by moving your traffic across different Tor servers, and encrypting that traffic so it isn't traced back to you. See the image below from the Tor project website.


Until now, Facebook has blocked Tor connections, making it difficult for users to access the site.  As I explained above, because Tor users appear to log in from unusual IP addresses all over the world, they often trigger Facebook's system security which might suggest that a hacked account is being accessed through a 'botnet'.

So why the move to allow Facebook users access via the Tor network?  According to Facebook’s Software Engineer for Security Infrastructure, Alec Muffet, “It’s important to us at Facebook to provide methods for people to use our site securely.”  “We hope that these and other features will be useful to people who wish to use Facebook's onion address. To make their experience more consistent with our goals of accessibility and security, we have begun an experiment which makes Facebook available directly over Tor network.”


Note: You must have the Tor bundle installed on your computer to access Tor websites.

What does this mean for L.E. ?

So what does this mean to law enforcement and social media investigations? Well, with the use of Tor, it will allow users logging into the Facebook platform, to hide not necessarily their identities, but the location they are logging in from.  Facebook policy still states users may not use pseudonyms to create accounts, but this isn’t always necessarily the case.  And now with the means to anonymously log in, this could inherently create problems for law enforcement.  In cases of exigent circumstances, where law enforcement submit lawful requests for login information involving potential threats or acts of violence communicated through the Facebook, It would be next to impossible to identify the location of that potential suspect.

Prior to August of 2013 and the revelation of the Eric Snowden documents, the number of users on the tor network numbered in the 900,000. After that time, usage shot up to close to 9 million users before settling back down to a current average of 2.5 million users monthly.


It is not clear how this will affect law enforcement subpoenas to logged access, but it certainly isn’t going to make it easier.  So will we see other Silicon Valley tech companies follow Facebook’s implementation of Tor access?  Let me know what you think.

Note: Articles posted on this site are the opinions of the independent writers; based on their knowledge and expertise, and NOT the opinions of or law enforcement agencies.

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