Fight censorship, join TOR

2010-01-27

in Geek stuff, Internet matters, Politics, Security

Google’s decision to challenge the Chinese government on their censorship policy is a bold one. It remains to be seen whether it will end up doing more harm or good. In the mean time, there is at least one thing that ordinary computer users can do in order to fight censorship around the world: set up a TOR relay. TOR is a project that allows for anonymous internet browsing through a system called onion routing. It is maintained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

By setting up a relay, you allow people whose internet access is censored by their governments to access sites that would otherwise be blocked; you also facilitate important democratic processes, such as the actions of whistleblowers. The process of installation is relatively simple, and you can easily cap how much of your bandwidth is given over to the TOR network. By sharing a bit of your bandwidth, you could be helping out human rights activists in China or Myanmar, or just helping some ordinary computer user circumvent annoying restrictions imposed from above. Systems like TOR help the internet to retain some of its vast potential, even in the face of fearful governments that want to control it or shut it down.

One thing to watch out for is that acting as a webserver may be forbidden by your internet service provider (ISP). I checked with mine (TekSavvy), and they have no objections to customers running any kind of webserver, provided they stay within their bandwidth limits.

People interested in this sort of thing may also want to learn about Project Honeypot – a distributed mechanism for fighting spammers.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. January 27, 2010 at 10:14 am

Can’t TOR also be used for nefarious purposes: spamming, child porn, hacking, terrorism, etc?

Milan January 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Any powerful tool can be misused.

Wikipedia says this:

The Tor project’s response to accusations that it is helping to facilitate illegal activity has been to emphasize that:

1. many law-abiding individuals who use Tor for “good” purposes (privacy, freedom of communication) do not have readily available and practical alternatives to Tor, while

2. those who are willing to break laws already have other more effective ways to remain anonymous (such as breaking into computers, renting botnets, or stealing cell phones).

The argument is that the benefit to those in group (1) is much larger than the assistance to those in group (2), who have realistic alternatives to Tor by virtue of the fact that they are willing to break the law.

. January 24, 2011 at 8:12 pm
Anon February 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm

You should know that this website sometimes blocks visitors who are using TOR.

That could be because other people have been doing bad things using the exit node in question.

. February 7, 2012 at 9:33 am
Nobody in Particular February 8, 2012 at 10:38 am

You should know that this website sometimes blocks visitors who are using TOR.

If you find yourself being blocked from sites while using TOR, it probably means someone used the same exit node earlier to send spam.

With the Vidalia GUI, it’s easy to hit ‘Use a New Identity’ and get assigned to a different exit node.

. April 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm
. June 21, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Hi IAmA! We are core members of the Tor Project. Ask us anything!

The Tor Project develops and maintains the Tor, a software that allows users to browse the web anonymously and securely. Tor was originally developed for the purpose of protecting government communications. Today, it is used by a wide variety of people for different purposes. An estimated 500,000 people use Tor on a daily basis; some use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and their family members, some use Tor to research sensitive topics, and some use Tor to connect to news sites and instant messaging services when these are blocked by their local Internet providers.

Karen Reilly (puffin_net) is the Development Director at The Tor Project, responsible for fundraising, advocacy, general marketing, and policy outreach programs for Tor.

Runa A. Sandvik (runasand) is a developer and researcher working on a range of different projects, from blocking analysis and quality assurance, to outreach and support.

Karen and I will be answering all your questions throughout the day, so feel free to ask us anything you’d like relating to Tor and the Tor Project.

edit: Here is some proof from our Twitter account: proof 1, proof 2, proof 3, and from my personal twitter account: proof 4.

edit: People currently answering questions, in addition to Karen and myself, are Roger Dingledine (arma-tor), Nick Mathewson (nickm_tor), Jacob Appelbaum (ioerror), and Erinn Clark (sakhalin).

. June 21, 2012 at 6:00 pm
. August 29, 2012 at 12:28 am

One reason why companies are increasingly interested in tools like NetFalcon and Splunk is for “data loss prevention”—blocking leaks of sensitive corporate data via e-mail, social media, and instant messaging, or the wholesale theft of data by hackers and malware using encrypted and anonymized channels.

“TOR is a good example,” Amir said. “Things like onion routers are sophisticated tools designed exactly to circumvent real-time mechanisms that would block that sort of traffic.” Analysts and administrators could search for traffic going to known onion router endpoints, and follow the trail within their own networks back to the originating systems.

anon November 26, 2012 at 10:56 pm

The Tor Project is looking for support assistants and translators!

Your job is to handle support requests via our ticketing system and our new Q&A website, as well as make sure translations for software and documentation are up to date. This is a part-time contractor position starting in Q4 2012 and renewing quarterly.

We are looking for candidates who are fluent in one of Arabic, French, Mandarin, Burmese, Vietnamese, Spanish, and English. All must be fluent in English.

. May 11, 2013 at 11:56 pm
. June 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm
anon July 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

But TOR is not perfect. Careful analysis of message timing, or the sort of traffic analysis made possible by the NSA’s enormous dragnet, may allow the spooks to penetrate the fog and pin down a user’s identity, even if they cannot read the messages themselves. Indeed, rumours have long swirled that the intelligence agencies run TOR nodes of their own, the better to keep tabs on its users. Happily, more help for the security-conscious whistleblower may now be at hand, in the form of AdLeaks, a system proposed by Völker Roth of the Free University in Berlin, in a paper posted to the online repository ArXiv.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/07/how-blow-whistles-securely

yu7CIllHnP August 5, 2013 at 10:45 pm
. December 19, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Using that conclusion, they then attempted to discern which students
had been using Tor on the Harvard wireless network around the time of
the threats. Before firing up Tor, Kim had to log on to the school’s
wireless system, which requires users to authenticate with a username
and password. By going through network logs and looking for users who
connected to the publicly-known IP addresses that are part of the Tor
network, the university was able to cross-reference users that were
using both Tor and its wireless internet around the time the bomb
threats were received

http://www.forbes.com/sites/runasandvik/2013/12/18/harvard-student-receives-f-for-tor-failure-while-sending-anonymous-bomb-threat/

. December 26, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Eldo Kim sent an e-mail bomb threat to Harvard so he could skip a final exam. (It’s just a coincidence that I was on the Harvard campus that day.) Even though he used an anonymous account and Tor, the FBI identified him. Reading the criminal complaint, it seems that the FBI got itself a list of Harvard users that accessed the Tor network, and went through them one by one to find the one who sent the threat.

This is one of the problems of using a rare security tool. The very thing that gives you plausible deniability also makes you the most likely suspect. The FBI didn’t have to break Tor; they just used conventional police mechanisms to get Kim to confess.

Tor didn’t break; Kim did.

. August 5, 2014 at 6:31 pm

The FBI Is Infecting Tor Users With Malware With Drive-By Downloads

For the last two years, the FBI has been quietly experimenting with drive-by hacks as a solution to one of law enforcement’s knottiest Internet problems: how to identify and prosecute users of criminal websites hiding behind the powerful Tor anonymity system. The approach has borne fruit—over a dozen alleged users of Tor-based child porn sites are now headed for trial as a result. But it’s also engendering controversy, with charges that the Justice Department has glossed over the bulk-hacking technique when describing it to judges, while concealing its use from defendants.

. February 25, 2016 at 2:03 pm

US defence department funded Carnegie Mellon research to break Tor

Court documents show that the government funded apparently successful study into revealing identity of anonymity service users

The US government funded research into breaking the online anonymity service Tor, court documents have revealed.

Carnegie Mellon University carried out the research, funded by the US Department of Defense, which attempted to deanonymise users of the service.

Once the researchers reported success, some of the information, including the IP address of a user alleged to be on the staff of an online black market called Silk Road 2, was then subpoenaed by the FBI for use in an investigation into the market.

Adding a further wrinkle to the case is the fact that Tor is itself funded by the US government. The service, which works by encrypting communications and then relaying them between multiple users in its network in order to baffle outside surveillance and hide the identity of the two ends of the connection from the other, was initially developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, and still receives money from the US Department of State and National Science Foundation.

. March 16, 2016 at 4:39 pm

First-ever Tor node in a Canadian library

Library workers at Western University’s Graduate Resource Centre in London, Ontario, had a workshop from Alison Macrina, the library organiser whose Library Freedom Project won a battle with the US DHS over a library in New Hampshire that was offering a Tor exit node as part of a global network that delivers privacy, censorship resistance, and anonymity to all comers.

Western’s librarians were so taken by Macrina’s presentation that they’ve turned on Canada’s first library-based Tor node. There is no clear law in Canada about libraries and Tor, and Macrina and the Western library folks say they’re spoiling for a fight.

. April 1, 2016 at 11:49 am
. July 4, 2016 at 8:53 am
. October 30, 2017 at 8:48 pm

The New York Times is now a Tor onion service

The New York Times is now available as an “Onion Service” on the Tor network, at the address https://www.nytimes3xbfgragh.onion/ — meaning that anyone with Tor access can securely and privately access the Times without giving away any information about what they’re looking at, even to state-level actors who control the ISPs.

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