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Deep Web hub hacked and shut down over child porn links

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For nine years, the Hidden Wiki has been the launching pad of choice for excursions into the Deep Web, the collection of websites hosted behind the anonymizing technology of Tor.

Many of those links lead to sites hosting graphic child pornography, something that's caused no small amount of debate and introspection among those who frequent the Deep Web. On Sunday, a pseudonymous hacker named Intangir took the debate into his own hands, hacking into the Hidden Wiki's servers and taking the site down in retaliation for its inclusion of child pornography.

Intangir calls himself the self-appointed “judge, jury, and executioner for all matters relating to Onionland” late last year—the onion here is a reference to “.onion,” the host name suffix used for Tor hidden services instead of names like .com and .org. He's best known as the owner of Doxbin, a Tor hidden service dedicated to publishing people’s personal information such as social security numbers and home addresses.

The fall of the Hidden Wiki marks the biggest blow to Deep Web child pornography since August 2013 when the FBI took down Freedom Hosting and arrested its alleged owner, Eric Eoin Marques, who they called “largest facilitator of child porn on the planet.”

The hack, aided by groups like @LOIC_Squad (LOIC is short for Low Orbit Ion Cannon, a simple DDoS tool originating on 4Chan), went far beyoned just taking the Hidden Wiki out of commission. Intangir says he has access to the website’s entire database including user credentials and server IPs. The full database will be released in the coming days after it’s been “looked over,” he promised.

The Hidden Wiki, which Intangir called “gay as fuck” in the hack’s announcement, was apparently hosted in the United States on VolumeDrive.com and shared a server with an uploading site called SecureUploads.me.

Users attempting to access the old Hidden Wiki address were sent to Doxbin where they’re greeted with this message:

“Over a year ago, doxbin appointed itself as judge, jury, and executioner for all matters relating to Onionland. Today, we made a decision that TheHiddenWiki wasn't good enough to own it's own onion, so we dispatched the doxbin repossession team to retrieve TheHiddenWiki's private_key and add it to our ever growing arsenal. To anyone mad at me due to your inability to find your hard candy (aka kiddie porn) fix somewhere else, I plan on updating this file periodically with a tally of how many attempts are made to visit the [child porn] page.”

Multiple copy cat sites have sprung up to replace the hidden wiki, but few include links to child porn.

Since the shutdown of Freedom Hosting in August, pedophile sites on the Deep Web have shrunk significantly. Many of the most popular websites, which were previously open to the public, have since become invite-only. The Love Zone, one of the most popular child pornography trading forums, now requires a user upload 50mb of hardcore preteen pornography to join--a hurdle for only the most hardcore of users that purposefully limits the forums' growth.

It's worth noting, however, that despite these restrictions The Love Zone still has more than 15,000 members.

The Hidden Wiki’s nine year lifespan is an eternity in the ephemeral world of the Deep Web. As thousands of other hidden websites have come and gone around it, the Hidden Wiki became something like a combination of Google and Wikipedia for an anonymous portion of the Internet that is purposefully difficult for new users to navigate.

Strongly anti-censorship, the Hidden Wiki’s owners have always brushed off widespread criticism about its content. Along with its dynamic collection of child pornography links, the website has linked to everything else the Deep Web has to offer, good and bad: Zoophilia (animal pornography), anonymous blogs, animal torture videos, anonymous email, revenge porn, enormous multimedia libraries, rape porn, anonymous chat rooms, blackmail porn, hacking forums, whistleblower sites like WikiLeaks, guides to identity theft, social networks, arms dealers, financial fraud, black markets, and much more.

Just about the only thing to offend the Hidden Wiki’s Deep Web peers, however, was the child pornography, which was listed under a section called “Hard Candy.”

This is far from the first time the Hidden Wiki was targeted by its enemies. Prior to this week’s incident, the most noteworthy battle against the Hidden Wiki was waged by the hacktivist collective Anonymous as a part of Operation Darknet in 2011.

Anonymous managed to bring the Hidden Wiki and several major child pornography websites down with distributed denial-of-service attacks for several days as well as release IP logs from visitors.

Although the attack was celebrated in the press, #OpDarkNet was a hollow victory. The Hidden Wiki and all the child porngraphy sites came back shortly and massively grew in popularity over the next two years.

The war over the Hidden Wiki is going both ways. Earlier today, an anti-censorship group took back control of the URL. The wiki isn’t back up—instead, users are now redirected to a page saying “Fuck doxbin! Tor doesn't bow to terrorists." But the site itself hasn't returned.

And if the Hidden Wiki stays down, this offensive will have severely cut down the size and accessibility of the world of Tor child pornography which has been in a nosedive since August, making it harder than ever for new users to access that shadowy corner of the Web.

Photo via hobvias sudoneighm/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)