Last week I wrote a post about Internet privacy. Basically I covered how the repeal of the Internet privacy act was simply allowing your ISP to continue to collect information regarding your Internet usage. The law was never enacted so its still business as usual for the service providers. I had suggested the use of a VPN to help protect you from prying eyes.
Previous Post: Internet Privacy Should I Care?
Today I am going to give you one more weapon to protect your surfing life style. You may have heard the term “Dark Web” or “Deep Web” on TV. Silly prime time network dramas make it sound like a hang out for hacker gangs and hit men for higher but for the most part its not. The Tor project as it is officially know is your answer to Internet privacy.
What exactly is the Tor project?
Tor is FREE software that will allow you to communicate anonymously over the Internet. (The Onion Router) Tor protects users by directing Internet traffic through a series of relays throughout the world giving the user many layers of protection. This is where the reference to the Onion comes in, The Tor network is similar to an Onion since contains many layers of anonymity.
Lets see if I can explain how the layering works. Sitting at your workstation you request a website. The communication is encrypted multiple times and then sent to a randomly selected Tor relay. That relay decrypts a layer to find out where the next relay is and pass the data on. The next relay does the same and so on until the final relay decrypts the inner most layer and routs the traffic to the destination. Whew sounds complex! The most important thing to remember is that each relay including the final destination has no idea where the data originated. If someone was watching your communication stream at any point in the relay chain they would NOT be able to trace it back to the originating user.
Why does this even exist and who maintains it?
If you live in the US or any other generally “free” country we enjoy the liberty to speak our mind and for the most part share information freely. However in many parts of the world the population is not free to share ideas or gripes and complaints regarding their government. The Tor Network provides a mechanism for everyone to share information and not fear retribution from oppressive governments. For the rest of us its just another tool to keep your computer usage private.
As for maintenance Tor is a 100% volunteer network. Do some reading about how much good comes from the Tor project and you can configure your home router to be a Tor endpoint or relay. Just beware as much good comes from the Tor project people use it for bad too. Just think of all the illegal file sharing and criminal transactions that happen behind the layers of the onion.
What else does the Tor Network do?
In addition to allowing you to route your internet traffic from your computer to the destination in an untraceable manner the Tor Network can also conceal web services as well. Imagine a world without Google, a place where you were unable to search for websites and you had to rely on memory or other sites to post links. Basically website addresses would be spread by word of mouth, a friend of a friend of a friend.
Buried in the Tor Network are thousands of web servers the have a .ONION domain. For example :
http://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/ – DuckDuckGo Search Engine
These hidden sites can be as simple as a blog or forum to freely exchange ideas and information, or they can be market places for illegal drugs or other criminal activity. The important thing to remember is that there is no google crawling the Tor network and indexing websites. Either you know where your going or you don’t.
How do I access the Tor Network?
The first step to access the Tor network is to download the Tor browser for your operating system. You can find versions of Tor for Windows, Apple, Linux, and phones / tablets. https://www.torproject.org/download/download
Download, install and begin surfing anonymously. You can view the route your traffic is taking by clicking the green onion in the toolbar. Here is an example of accessing this blog over the Tor network.
As you can see my traffic was routed through 3 sites keeping my browsing private.
As I said in my last article we are just bits of data in a Tera byte stream of data, are any of us that important that we need to mask our everyday internet habits? I believe its for us to decide how we are tracked and what data is compiled for each internet user. Tor and VPN’s allow us the flexibility to keep prying eyes at bay.
Internet Privacy Should I Care? <- Good read regarding VPN privacy
Thanks for reading my blog