Designed to keep its users anonymous for both legitimate and lawful purposes as well as access to unlawful material like child pornography and other illicit material, online stores for banned goods, etc. the TOR network witnessed something major over the weekend – a number of underground websites just vanished.

Allegedly linked to an FBI-related takedown of a hosting service provider in Ireland ‘Freedom Hosting’ and arrest of its owner Eric Eoin Marques, the disappearance prompted a number of users to flock Reddit as well as Tor blog with questions and reactions.

The hosting service provider was taken down because it is believed that Marques provided hosting services for illicit usage – even child pornography. Some say that the service provider was known to serve over half of the .onion sites.

According to Tor’s Phobos’ there were reports of server breach that hosted these websites and agencies may have attacked “software running at the server behind the dot onion address.” Phobos wrote that the security breach may have resulted into configuration of the server such that it injects some sort of JavaScript exploit to all users who access sites hosted on Freedom Hosting. There were reports of an exploit in Firefox 17, the bundled browser that goes with the TOR software, that malware installed through the exploit didn’t go about doing any malicious expect for finding the true IP addresses of users.

This is worrying for those who want to stay anonymous while carrying out legitimate activities as many considered TOR as one of the most secure means of staying anonymous online. TOR has been used by many in repressive regimes – specially by reporters – to report news. Many even use it to run hidden services “to protect dissidents, activists, and protect the anonymity of users trying to find help for suicide prevention, domestic violence, and abuse-recovery.” Such revelations of security breach and subsequent takedowns do pose questions on the future of online freedom.