Police plants own computers in Freenet, log IPs, makes arrest

Freenet, a P2P network routing traffic across multiple nodes to hide people’s IP when filesharing, and often cited by the media as part of the dark web, appears to  have been broken by law enforcement.

Court records related to Paul Bradley Meagher, a University of North Dakota police officer arrested for downloading child porn from the “anonymous” peer to peer network Freenet, reveal that the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation had been running an undercover operation in the network since 2011, planting their own nodes inside Freenet to be able to log people’s IPs and trace the final destination of users downloading illegal material.

The Dakota student news site relates how Investigating Officer Jesse Smith managed to get hold of Paul Bradley’s laptop still switched on and running Freenet on the Wifi network, law enforcement discovered child porn images during the preview before seizing the laptop, arresting the suspect, whom, at that point refused to talk with the investigators. Paul Bradley has now been charged with 10 counts of possession of child pornography and can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison for each count, facing a possible 50 years in jail.

Freenet network jSite

Freenet network jSite

The Grand Forks Herald from North Dakota cites detective Jesse Smith in the affidavit as admitting to her department running nodes in Freenet to be able to track people downloading files included in a list of known child porn file hashes from the police database.

Unsurprisingly, when a journalist contacted the Bureau of Criminal Investigation of North Dakota they declined to make any comment about the story, so little is known about how they track people. It could be because Freenet has far less nodes than Tor, or because Freenet code has some bug (it requires Java to run).

With further research I found that the ICAC Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, in 2014 ran a Freenet workshop for law enforcement to present what they called the “Black Ice Project“. Quoted on their website as “This session will describe the basic functioning of Freenet, how persons exchanging child abuse material, the system’s vulnerabilities and how the Black Ice project exploits them.


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