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I’m an aspiring writer, working on a spy-thriller novel with Tor as part of the plot. Is it hypothetically possible to hack an individual Onion Router to discover the location of the previous router?

In the novel, the bad guy will communicate using Tor. The good guy will then discover the bad guy's identity by backtracking through the bad guy’s Tor circuit, hacking each router, one-by-one, until he reaches the bad guy’s computer. It is essentially a ‘treasure hunt’ with Onion Routers as clues.

Moreover, I want the protagonist to physically travel to each router to hack it. That way I can fit in cool locations. For instance, the exit router could be in the mansion of a Russian mobster. So the protagonist travels to Moscow and breaks into the mansion and hacks the router. The exit router then tells him where to find the middle router: an opera house in Vienna. So he goes to Vienna and tries to break into the opera house. Etc., etc., until he reaches the bad guy’s computer.

To sum up, then, is it possible (even hypothetically) to hack each router individually, after the data has been sent? Please help! I realize that this is an atypical request, but I would be grateful for any advice!

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No, unless 1) you could tap all Internet traffic between those relays (then what is the reason for hacking physically?) or 2) the bad guy is ignorant enough, livestreaming through Tor (using the same connection!) for a couple of days.
A normal OP (Onion Proxy) changes its circuits every 10 minutes, which is far less than enough for the good guy to travel physically from one router to another. Most relays do not store any log containing sensitive information (SafeLogging is on by default).
So why not push the bad guy into Freenet? Long lived friend-to-friend connections suit the scenario better.

  • Thank you. Very helpful! I tried to upvote, but it doesn't show publically because I have less than 15 upvotes. If the bad guy did livestream, would there be any reason to travel to the routers physically? Or could the bad guy’s identity be recovered from home? – MikeCCarol Jul 15 '17 at 12:29
  • @MikeCCarol There are reasons, for example, when the bad guy announces that he is going to livestream his victim for a whole month (the Tor network must be incredibly stable during that time), it becomes reasonable to do it physically. I think it is easier to recover the bad guy's identity from home (check out papers about deanonymizing attacks), but it might sound too technical in the novel. – nobody Jul 15 '17 at 13:40

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