Run a Tor relay or exit node in solidarity with Dmitry Bogatov!

On April 12, Russia celebrated Yuriy Gagarin’s first flight in space. In the meanwhile, a young Russian scientist, mathematician and FOSS activist Dmitry Bogatov spends the Space Day in detention center. His involvement in decentralized web projects, his interest to privacy and anonymity, his activities as an administrator of tor exit node have brought him under suspicion of the FSB. Accused of “incitation to terrorism” because of some messages posted from his IP address, he will stay detained till June 8 at least, and risks up to 7 years in prison if the Investigation committee ‘proves’ his guilt.

Free Dmitry Bogatov

Though, the very nature of Bogatov case is a controversial one, as it mixes technical and legal arguments, and makes necessary both strong legal and technical expertise involved. Indeed, as a Tor exit node operator, Dmitry does not have control and responsibility on the content and traffic that passes through his node: it would be the same as accusing someone who has a knife stolen from her house for the murder committed with this knife by a stranger. In the past other exit node operators in Russia had conversations with police. For example, Sergey Matveev aka Stargrave been witnessing several times on the cases related to the crimes commited under his IP adress (mostly, related to financial fraud and hacking). Though, as Sergey states himself, he “has never been accused, but was only a witness”, as his cases were not related to “extremism” On 2016-02-02 his devices were seized for 2 weeks for inspection but he has never been detained, after explaining to the police how Tor actually works.

Russia counts 230.000 Tor users everyday and only 46 exit nodes. Tor is extremely popular after a bunch of laws restricting usage of Internet and enforcing the lawful interception procedures (obliging ISPs to store all metadata for 3 years, and the traffic - even though encrypted - for 6 months). However, the Bogatov case has had an influence on the perception of Tor by ‘end users’. We’ve observed several group chats on Russian most popular IM app, telegram, dedicated to anti-Putin protests: these chats gather from +500 to +1500 users, and a lot of them use different privacy enhancing tools. The Bogatov case was discussed widely. These discussions have shown that users do not fully understand the difference between running a relay and an exit node, and also between relay operators and tor browser users. They perceive Tor as being vulnerable to deanonymization. Misunderstanding, lack of feedback from Tor community or ‘expert’ users underrepresented in these chat rooms leads the discussion to a very dangerous direction: “we do not care about hiding things, because the police will anyway find everything about us - even Tor is not secure”.

Tor activists have launched a flashmob - “Run a relay in solidarity with Bogatov”. By April 13, in only 1 day, 18 new relays have been set up in different countries, wearing names like freeBogatov and KActionLibre, referring to Bogatov’s handle famous in FOSS and GnuPG forums. Bogatov’s personal exit node that he had been running from his own house was also wearing the ‘kaction’ name. It is the first flashmob that uses relays as form of international solidarity and the nicknames of relays become a means to transmit a message: Bogatov is part of the community, he is a valuable, trusted person who has been contributing to various open source projects and is recognized as a professional. Tor community also works on technical proof/explanations to help users and Bogatov’s lawyers to understand that, by the very architecture of Tor network, Bogatov can not be responsible for the things he is accused of. He also has alibi: he was absent when the messages were published, and video recordings from surveillance cameras are in posession of Bogatov’s lawyer. Another proof of Bogatov’s innocence is the fact that the user continued posting incendiary messages after Bogatov has been arrested. Also, the style of writing, the language, orthography do not correspond to Bogatov’s style - this can be proven by psycholinguistic expertise. However, FSB does not want to stop the process - they investigate the version of “terrorism”, that would mean a very hard penalty for Dmitry, and also does not correspond to technical, legal, psychological, social situation. The judge also claimed to not trust Dmitry because of his ‘‘high skills in new technologies’’ that may potentially help him “erase traces of his crimes” - to prove this weird hypothesis, the Investigation Committee has withdrawn all the technical equipment from Dmitry’s apartment - from USB drives to laptops, smartphones and cameras…

If you can, run a relay or an exit node and give it a name that contains Bogatov or KAction (Bogatov’s handle). By running more relays we increase anonymity and also show solidarity and demonstrate the power of shared responsibility.

Tor relays are publicly available for everyone to use

The IP addresses of the Tor relays (middle relays and exit nodes) are publicly available and can be freely used by the tor users. The fact that relays are a publicly available resource doesn’t minimize or threatens the anonymity of a tor user in fact it can be used as a proof that an IP address of a server was a Tor at a given time.

Currently running Tor relays are enumerated to Atlas, a web application to learn about currently running Tor relays. In a similarly way the ExoneraTor service maintains a database of IP addresses that have been part of the Tor network. It answers the question whether there was a Tor relay running on a given IP address on a given date. ExoneraTor may store more than one IP address per relay if relays use a different IP address for exiting to the Internet than for registering in the Tor network, and it stores whether a relay permitted transit of Tor traffic to the open Internet at that time. Exonerator is a web service that can check if an IP address was a relay at a given time.

A different type of relays; bridges are Tor relays that aren’t listed in the public Tor directory. That means that ISPs or governments trying to block access to the Tor network can’t simply block all bridges. Bridges are useful a) for Tor users in oppressive regimes, and b) for people who want an extra layer of security because they’re worried somebody will recognize that it’s a public Tor relay IP address they’re contacting.

Further reading

Short version

Run a Tor relay or exit node in solidarity with Dmitry Bogatov!

Tor activists launch a call to run relays and exit nodes in solidarity with Dmitry Bogatov, a FOSS contributor, GnuPG and privacy advocate and math teacher arrested and detained in Russia. By now 26 relays have been set up in different countries.

Bogatov will stay in detention till June 8 at least. He risks up to 7 years in prison as he is accused of having published messages with incitations to terrorism. A user ‘Airat Bashirov’ was indeed posting a number of messages inciting to organize mass rallies and protests, using Bogatov’s home IP adress. However, as a Tor exit node operator, Bogatov can not have access or be responsible for the content that passes by: Tor’s technical architecture is in itself a proof of his innocence.

As an active FOSS contributor, he also has a support from the peer community and has a strong alibi - he was in the sport center and then in the supermarket at the moment when the messages were published. Moreover, after Bogatov’s arrest the same user continued posting incendiary messages.

If you can, run a tor relay or an exit node and give it a name that contains Bogatov or KAction (Bogatov’s handle). By running more relays we increase anonymity and also show solidarity and demonstrate the power of shared responsibility.