A US court sentenced 36-year-old Dubliner Eric Eoin Marques, who ran Freedom Hosting from July 2008 to July 2013. During those years, the company provided darknet hosting services to more than 200 sites that posted materials related to the exploitation of children and sexual abuse of minors. Anonymous hacktivists have attracted the attention of the authorities to this service, and it is with Freedom Hosting that one of the first cases of massive use of FBI malware is associated.
THE LARGEST PROVIDER OF CHILD PORN
In September 2021, Eric Eoin Marquez, who had dual citizenship USA and Ireland, has been given 27 years in prison, as well as lifelong supervision authorities after he serve his term and will be released. In addition, Marquez was banned from using the Internet for life “except as previously approved by the oversight officer.”
In an official statement, the US Department of Justice said that “Marquez was one of the largest distributors of child pornography in the world.” Similar statements were made in 2013 when Marquez was arrested and put on trial in his native Dublin when FBI special agent Brooke Donahue also described Marquez as “the largest child porn broker on the planet.”
An investigation into Freedom Hosting’s activities began in 2011, when the service hit the pages of many world media outlets and in the attention of the authorities. The fact is that then Anonymous exposed the hoster and named it the main source of child porn on the darknet, organizing powerful DDoS attacks on the resource.
In 2011, as part of Operation Darknet, directed against paedophiles on the Tor network, the data of 1,589 accounts of the Lolita City website were published in the public domain. The site was hosted by Freedom Hosting and contained over 100GB of child pornography, according to Anonymous.
Back then, hacktivists found links to child abuse content in the Hard Candy section of the darknet Hidden Wiki. They removed the links, but soon they were returned to their place by the administration of the resource. Then Anonymous noticed that 95% of these photos were associated with Lolita City and Freedom Hosting, after which they issued a series of ultimatums to the hoster, which were ignored.
As a result, Anonymous moved from threats to business and launched a series of DDoS attacks on Freedom Hosting in general and on Lolita City in particular. The hacktivists proudly wrote that with their attacks they “destroy more than 40 sites with child pornography.” The Lolita City user database mentioned above appears to have been extracted using SQL injection.
The consequences of Operation Darknet were so widespread that rumours about the compromise of Tor in general spread across the network. Tor by Project representatives was forced to devote the case of large publishing in his blog, where it is explained that the Tor network itself has not been compromised.
“More than 1.97 million images and videos [of child abuse] were previously unknown to law enforcement. Many of these materials include sadistic abuse of infants and young children, including bondage, bestiality, and bullying, including urination, defecation and vomiting, ”which is how Justice officials now describe the content posted on Freedom Hosting.
Details of exactly how the FBI tracked down Marquez after 2011 are unknown to this day. After the attacks, Anonymous Freedom Hosting worked by invitation only. To become a client of the service, you had to get an invite from an existing user. Later, Márquez even tried to organize his own completely anonymous bank (Onion Bank), which offered not only ordinary financial services but also escrow, trading services and money laundering. Thanks to this project, Freedom Hosting managed to become public again, offering anonymous onion hosting to everyone who could pay for it. However, this did not last long.
Official documents state that Marquez was arrested two years later, in July 2013. According to rumours, it was possible to catch him thanks to social engineering. All sites hosted by Freedom Hosting closed a week after his arrest on August 3, 2013.
Marquez fought against extradition to the United States for six years. FBI agents said that shortly before his arrest, he even planned to obtain Russian citizenship and wanted to hide from the Western authorities in Russia. However, Irish law enforcement and the FBI managed to arrest him earlier and eventually handed him over to the United States in March 2019. A year later, in February 2020, Marquez pleaded guilty.
Freedom Hosting once hosted child pornography sites such as Lolita City, Love Zone, and PedoEmpire. The service also hosted the anonymous mail service TorMail, the already mentioned directory of darknet sites Hidden Wiki, the HackBB carding forum and many other resources offering various illegal services and content.
In essence, all of these sites were hosted on servers owned by Marquez’s company, the now-defunct Host Ultra Limited. This is not to say that Marquez zealously hide their business or shy: gray hat hacker discovered SHG.Nackt account Mar Kesa on webhostingtalk.com forum, where he has published 785 posts and actively advertise their business and sometimes sought advice about the various instruments for anonymity including VPN for example.
Users who wanted to host a site on the darknet logged into Freedom Hosting through Tor, signed up for an account, made a one-time payment of $ 5, and then could deploy the site using PHP and MySQL. At some point, Freedom Hosting hosted about half of all dark websites (that is, in the .onion zone).
When the scope with which Freedom Hosting was working became clear and the case went to court, it even hit the reputation of the Tor Project. After all, this hosting was a clear illustration for the favourite horror story of the authorities and law enforcement agencies from all over the world, which says that the Internet is literally flooded with perverts, criminals of all stripes, child pornography and other creepy things.
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