FBI investigators have broadened their probe into emailed bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh to an anonymous remailer in Austria.
Earlier this week, at the request of U.S. authorities, police visited Christian Mock, an Austrian provider who offers anonymous remailing services. Authorities had a court order allowing them to “create a forensic disk image” of the remailer. “Therefore, I had to destroy any exisiting keys and create new keys,” he announced in the alt.privacy.anon-server Google Group.
Last week federal authorities seized a server from a New York co-location center shared by two technology companies, Riseup Networks and May First/People Link. The server reportedly belonged to ISP European Counter Network. None of the 300 email accounts on the seized server have been implicated in the bomb threats, Riseup Networks said in an earlier prepared statement.
“The FBI is using a sledgehammer approach, shutting down service to hundreds of users due to the actions of one anonymous person,” said Riseup spokesman Devin Theriot-Orr. “This is particularly misguided because there is unlikely to be any information on the server regarding the source of the threatening emails.”
“We sympathize with the University of Pittsburgh community who have had to deal with this frightening disruption for weeks. We oppose such threatening actions. However, taking this server won’t stop these bomb threats. The only effect it has is to also disrupt e-mail and websites for thousands of unrelated people,” he added.
Riseup officials warned that recent actions could have a chilling effect on other providers of anonymous services.
One such provider appears to be Mock, who, like Riseup Networks, had a server acting as a node in the widely deployed Mixmaster remailer network to allow users to anonymously or pseudonymously send emails. Mixmaster is specifically designed to make emails untraceable.
On April 24, Mock announced the remailer’s private keys had been compromised during the police search and he’d destroyed all existing keys, which would cause messages in transit using those keys to be discarded.
“Depending on how paranoid you are, you may assume the machine is backdoored, since the authorities have had access,” he said. “I will re-install the machine from trustworthy media, but due to the logistics involved this will take a few weeks.”
Mock has represented Internet users on the Austrian Domain Name Council since its establishment in 2001.