Just like most countries with an internet-savvy population, Japan has to deal with more than its fair share of web-based crime. Only problem is, Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA) appears to be altogether less savvy than those it’s trying to catch, prompting them to call for what would amount to a blanket ban on anyone using the IP-anonymizing Tor network.
Apparently, the NPA is hoping to convince ISPs to block users if there is any reason to suspect they are “misusing” Tor’s anonymizing features in anyway. While blocking people from using the net merely because they are ‘suspected’ of mischief is bad enough, the BBC reports that the wording used by the NPA in its proposal is so vague that it’s likely the cops would presume all Tor users are guilty – no matter what they’re actually using the network for.
The NPA’s statement claims that it was “looking into measures to combat crimes that abuse the Tor system, which lead to a report published on April 18, stating that blocking online communications at the discretion of site administrators will be effective in preventing such crimes. Based on the recommendation, the NPA will urge the Internet provider industry and other entities to make voluntary efforts to that effect.” According to the NPA, the measure will allow it to prevent a wide range of online crimes, including financial fraud, child abuse, and leaks of confidential police information. However, some critics have already said that the latter reason could well be the main motivation for blocking Tor, in light of recent incidents that have humiliated the Japanese police.
Demon Killer Wild Cat Chase Shenanigans
Tor hit the headlines in Japan earlier this year when a hacker going by the name of “Demon Killer” terrorized netizens with bomb threats posted on popular message boards. While doing so, Demon Killer also exposed the police’s inept cyber investigative skills by hiding his IP with the Tor network, and by deploying malware known as iesys.exe to take control of other PCs, which were used to post more threats online.
Even more humiliating for the police, not only did they fail to track Demon Killer down, but they actually went out and wrongly arrested four innocent victims of the iesys.exe virus, even going as far as to “extract a confession” from one of them.
Things settled down for a while with the public thinking the police “had got their man”, only for Demon killer to pop up on the same forums once again, taunting the cops about their mistake. He then sent them on a wild goose chase, planting a false trail and luring them to an island south of Tokyo where they discovered a cat with a memory card attached to its collar, containing the iesys.exe virus and other hacking data. The cops finally arrested Demon Killer several days later after reviewing CCTV footage of the island.
Japan’s determination to stamp out cybercrime in the wake of this humiliation can certainly be understood, but blaming their own shortcomings on Tor is not the way to do so. Admittedly there is potential for abuse, but at the same time Tor can also be a very useful tool, aiding pro-democracy activists in the Middle East, for example. Banning Tor would be much like banning the sale of matches, just because they ‘could’ be used by arsonists to start a fire.
It remains to be see how Japan’s ISPs or the web community will react to this news.