FBI told to reveal Tor hack code
Exploiting the Tor network meant the FBI was able to take over Playpen, the world's largest child pornography site iStock

The FBI has been ordered to hand over the code they used to hack into the encrypted web browser Tor in order to carry out a sting to capture paedophiles and bust a child pornography website.

The operation saw the FBI take over and operate the world's largest child pornography site on the dark web called Playpen and catch users who downloaded and uploaded explicit content. Using malware, the FBI managed to snag 1,300 computer addresses of registered visitors and charge 137 of those as a result.

One of the accused is now fighting his case on the grounds that the operation represented a "gross misconduct by government and law enforcement agencies". In light of this, lawyers and a federal judge has ordered the FBI to reveal how they were able to obtain the evidence indicting individuals as well as questioning the warrant used to carry out its network investigative technique (NIT).

In order to comply, the FBI would have to disclose to the court the entire computer code and method it used to exploit Tor – a network widely used by those who want to remain anonymous as it bounces location-identifying IP addresses around so users cannot be traced.

Of course, the FBI is highly unlikely to want to give up its secrets without a fight as once out in the open it could prevent the law officials using the same code to catch criminals in the future. It is believed the FBI has used malware tactics in the past with cases dating back to 2012 and 2013 where the agents relocated the servers of a notorious child pornography site and infected visitors' computers to reveal their location.

One cannot fail to see the irony in this case following the FBI's demands that Apple provide a backdoor to the killer's iPhone owned by the shooter in the San Bernardino massacre, which is something Apple wholly opposes as they believe it would be a 'dangerous' thing to do and risks compromising national security should the unlocking software end up in the wrong hands.