The Russian federal government is now offering roughly $111,000 (or 3.9 million roubles) to researchers who explore ways to de-anonymize and learn technical details about all Tor users. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) is accepting proposals until August at their Moscow office.
The MIA specifically calls for research to “study the possibility of obtaining technical information about users and users equipment on the Tor anonymous network,” according to a translated version of the proposal. Only Russian nationals are allowed to win the contract "in order to ensure the country's defense and security."
Tor, which was originally invented at the U.S. Navy and receives millions of dollars in funding from the U.S. government every year, is in the crosshairs of governments around the globe due to its ability to allow user to access the Internet anonymously. Even the U.S. government, the chief underwriter of the project, spends significant resources targeting users and trying to break the program’s anonymity as revealed by National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden last year.
The American-funded anonymity network has become extremely popular in Russia over the last three months, hitting a peak of over 200,000 concurrent users in June.
The Russian surge in Tor usage is seen as a reaction to the slow tide of both digital and offline oppression in the country. In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Internet “a special CIA project” in the midst of new laws being passed that clamped down on citizens' freedoms.