Admin of Freedom Hosting Sentenced to 27 Years in Prison

The administrator of the dark web hosting service Freedom Hosting has been sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Eric Eoin Marques, aged 36, from Dublin, Ireland, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang to 27 years in prison followed by lifetime supervision. He founded the dark web hosting service Freedom Hosting and pleaded guilty to conspiring to promote child pornography on the dark web.

Marques established Freedom Hosting in 2008 as a free hosting service for onion services. Before the FBI seized the service in 2013, half of the operating onion services used Freedom Hosting. In the United States, providers of electronic services are typically not held responsible for user-generated content. However, Marques, the administrator of Freedom Hosting, publicly claimed no involvement in the operation or use of the onion services created by its users. In reality, he directly assisted certain services in their daily operations, particularly those that facilitated the distribution of child abuse content.

During the investigation, the FBI discovered that Freedom Hosting provided hosting for at least 200 child exploitation sites containing millions of pictures and videos. Nearly two million files involved victims identified in previous law enforcement investigations.

Marques was identified by administrators of child abuse forums as having a role in their operations.

In July 2013, the FBI took control of Freedom Hosting servers, but Marques regained access by changing the admin passwords. On July 29, Irish police arrested Marques on an international arrest warrant. The FBI regained control of the Freedom Hosting servers. Following Marques’s arrest, every onion service hosted by Freedom Hosting displayed a “Down for Maintenance” message. Many of the websites on Freedom Hosting were unrelated to child abuse content distribution, such as Tor Mail and the Hidden Wiki.

The maintenance page contained a hidden iframe with JavaScript code exploiting a memory management vulnerability in Firefox 17 ESR. At the time, the Tor Browser Bundle was based on this vulnerable version of Firefox and was shipped with NoScript disabled by default.

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