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The researchers found that a majority of Tor hidden service traffic—the traffic to the 40 most visited sites, in fact—were actually communications from “botnet” computers infected with malware seeking instructions from a hacker-controlled server running Tor.Most of those malware control servers were offline, remnants of defunct malware schemes like the Skynet botnet whose alleged operator was arrested last year.

They then used a custom web-crawling program to visit each of the sites they'd found and classify them by content.Since the study only attempted to classify sites by content at the end of its six month probe, Tor director Roger Dingledine points out that it could over-represent child abuse sites that remained online longer than other types of sites."[The study] could either show a lot of people visiting abuse-related hidden services, or it could simply show that abuse-related hidden services are more long-lived than others," he writes.The study also found that the vast majority of Tor hidden services persist online for only a matter of days or weeks.Less than one in six of the hidden services that was online when Owen's study began remained online at the end of it.