Anonymity Online – Tor

Protect your privacy. Defend yourself against network surveillance and traffic analysis.

Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a   distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around          the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet          connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents          the sites you visit from learning your physical location.   Tor works with many of your existing applications, including          web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote login, and          other applications based on the TCP protocol.

Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to    improve their privacy and security on the Internet. It also enables    software developers to create new communication tools    with built-in privacy features. Tor provides the foundation for    a range of applications that allow organizations and individuals    to share information over public networks without compromising their    privacy.

Individuals use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and their family    members, or to connect to news sites, instant messaging services, or the    like when these are blocked by their local Internet providers. Tor’s hidden services    let users publish web sites and other services without needing to reveal    the location of the site. Individuals also use Tor for socially sensitive    communication: chat rooms and web forums for rape and abuse survivors,    or people with illnesses.

Journalists use Tor to communicate more safely with whistleblowers and    dissidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use Tor to allow their    workers to connect to their home website while they’re in a foreign    country, without notifying everybody nearby that they’re working with    that organization.

Groups such as Indymedia recommend Tor for safeguarding their members’    online privacy and security. Activist groups like the Electronic Frontier    Foundation (EFF) recommend Tor as a mechanism for    maintaining civil liberties online. Corporations use Tor as a safe way    to conduct competitive analysis, and to protect sensitive procurement    patterns from eavesdroppers. They also use it to replace traditional    VPNs, which reveal the exact amount and timing of communication. Which    locations have employees working late? Which locations have employees    consulting job-hunting websites? Which research divisions are communicating    with the company’s patent lawyers?

A branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence    gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle    East recently. Law enforcement uses Tor for visiting or surveilling    web sites without leaving government IP addresses in their web logs,    and for security during sting operations.

The variety of people who use Tor is actually part of what makes    it so secure. Tor hides you among the    other users on the network,    so the more populous and diverse the user base for Tor is, the more your    anonymity will be protected.

Why we need Tor

Using Tor protects you against a common form of Internet surveillance    known as “traffic analysis.” Traffic analysis can be used to infer    who is talking to whom over a public network. Knowing the source    and destination of your Internet traffic allows others to track your    behavior and interests. This can impact your checkbook if, for example,    an e-commerce site uses price discrimination based on your country or    institution of origin. It can even threaten your job and physical safety    by revealing who and where you are. For example, if you’re travelling    abroad and you connect to your employer’s computers to check or send mail,    you can inadvertently reveal your national origin and professional    affiliation to anyone observing the network, even if the connection    is encrypted.

How does traffic analysis work? Internet data packets have two parts:    a data payload and a header used for routing. The data payload is    whatever is being sent, whether that’s an email message, a web page, or an    audio file. Even if you encrypt the data payload of your communications,    traffic analysis still reveals a great deal about what you’re doing and,    possibly, what you’re saying. That’s because it focuses on the header,    which discloses source, destination, size, timing, and so on.

A basic problem for the privacy minded is that the recipient of your    communications can see that you sent it by looking at headers. So can    authorized intermediaries like Internet service providers, and sometimes    unauthorized intermediaries as well. A very simple form of traffic    analysis might involve sitting somewhere between sender and recipient on    the network, looking at headers.

But there are also more powerful kinds of traffic analysis. Some    attackers spy on multiple parts of the Internet and use sophisticated    statistical techniques to track the communications patterns of many    different organizations and individuals. Encryption does not help against    these attackers, since it only hides the content of Internet traffic, not    the headers.

The solution: a distributed, anonymous network

Tor helps to reduce the risks of both simple and sophisticated traffic    analysis by distributing your transactions over several places on the    Internet, so no single point can link you to your destination. The idea    is similar to using a twisty, hard-to-follow route in order to throw off    somebody who is tailing you — and then periodically erasing your    footprints. Instead of taking a direct route from source to    destination, data packets on the Tor network take a random pathway    through several relays that cover your tracks so no observer at any    single point can tell where the data came from or where it’s going.

To create a private network pathway with Tor, the user’s software or    client incrementally builds a circuit of encrypted connections through    relays on the network. The circuit is extended one hop at a time, and    each relay along the way knows only which relay gave it data and which    relay it is giving data to. No individual relay ever knows the    complete path that a data packet has taken. The client negotiates a    separate set of encryption keys for each hop along the circuit to ensure    that each hop can’t trace these connections as they pass through.

 

Once a circuit has been established, many kinds of data can be exchanged    and several different sorts of software applications can be deployed    over the Tor network. Because each relay sees no more than one hop in    the circuit, neither an eavesdropper nor a compromised relay can use    traffic analysis to link the connection’s source and destination. Tor    only works for TCP streams and can be used by any application with SOCKS    support.

For efficiency, the Tor software uses the same circuit for connections    that happen within the same ten minutes or so. Later requests are given a    new circuit, to keep people from linking your earlier actions to the new    ones.

Hidden services

Tor also makes it possible for users to hide their locations while    offering various kinds of services, such as web publishing or an instant    messaging server. Using Tor “rendezvous points,” other Tor users can    connect to these hidden services, each without knowing the other’s    network identity. This hidden service functionality could allow Tor    users to set up a website where people publish material without worrying    about censorship. Nobody would be able to determine who was offering    the site, and nobody who offered the site would know who was posting to it.    Learn more about configuring    hidden services and how the hidden    service protocol works.Staying anonymous

Tor can’t solve all anonymity problems. It focuses only on    protecting the transport of data. You need to use protocol-specific    support software if you don’t want the sites you visit to see your    identifying information. For example, you can use Torbutton    while browsing the web to withhold some information about your computer’s    configuration.

Also, to protect your anonymity, be smart. Don’t provide your name    or other revealing information in web forms. Be aware that, like all    anonymizing networks that are fast enough for web browsing, Tor does not    provide protection against end-to-end timing attacks: If your attacker    can watch the traffic coming out of your computer, and also the traffic    arriving at your chosen destination, he can use statistical analysis to    discover that they are part of the same circuit.

 Learn more about Tor »

 

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