Getting to Know Tor, the Most Popular Anonymity Tool in the World

    by Kelley Misata
    November 20, 2013

    Click on the image for the full series. Original photo by Bruce Evans on Flickr.

    Click on the image for the full series.
    Photo by blackdenimgumb on Flickr.

    The Tor Project protects the privacy and anonymity of millions of Internet users while at the same time helping them circumvent online censorship. This is done by concealing an end-user’s location and Internet usage from entities conducting online surveillance or traffic analysis, such as authoritarian governments, criminals, and online advertisers. When you use Tor, third parties have a much more difficult time tracing your Internet activity back to you, including visits to websites, online posts, and other online communications.

    "The Tor Project protects the privacy and anonymity of millions of Internet users while at the same time helping them circumvent online censorship."

    Around the World

    In places like Iran and Egypt, Tor has been an essential tool for dissident movements. It has also proved to be an essential tool for whistleblowers, journalists, humanitarian workers and survivors of crime. Edward Snowden used the Tor Network to send PRISM documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Groups such as Indymedia recommend Tor for safeguarding their members’ online privacy and security. Activists groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommend Tor as a mechanism for maintaining civil liberties online. Corporations use Tor to protect sensitive procurement patterns from eavesdroppers.


    How does Tor Work?

    The following is meant to give you a basic understanding of how Tor works. For a more complex explanation, visit here.

    End-users must first download the Tor software on their computer that allows them to connect to the Tor network, which is composed of thousands of computers and routers called Tor relays.

    The best way to explain what happens next is to think of Tor as a system of “hops” on the Internet where instead of your Internet traffic going from point to point, it hops several times in the network. During this process, your IP address remains hidden. When your Internet traffic reaches its intended destination, your connection appears as though it is coming from an IP address of an exit Tor relay in the network, which can be anywhere in the world. This means that your Internet traffic, such as a request for a web page or an IM message, is not linked to your real IP address. Why is this important? Because when combined with other information, third parties can find out who you are, where you are, and what you are doing online.


    Who Uses Tor and Why?

    Many journalists use Tor to communicate more safely with whistleblowers, dissidents or while they are traveling in parts of the world where their communication channels are blocked or monitored.

    Users Trying to Access Censored Content
    Many people use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and to access online content or tools that may be censored in their country and thus blocked by their Internet service providers.

    Privacy-Conscious Citizens
    Individuals use Tor to protect themselves from criminals who steal identities and bandwidth to commit crimes, or who don’t want to their personal information tracked by online advertisers. In fact, Tor even protects users from price discrimination, since some e-commerce sites will show you a different price based on your geographical location.

    Individuals Engaging in Socially Sensitive Communications
    Individuals who engage in socially sensitive communication such as chat rooms and web forums for rape and abuse survivors, or people with illnesses.

    Non-Governmental Organizations Such as Humanitarian Groups
    Non-governmental organizations 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.

    Who Runs Tor?

    Tor is free software and an open network run by thousands of volunteers throughout the world. That means it’s completely free to use. We are always looking for a diversity of volunteers. If you are interested in getting involved, contact [email protected]

    How do I get Tor?

    The easiest place to start is to go to our website (www.torproject.org) and download the Tor Browser Bundle (TBB), which is available on Windows, Mac OS X or Linux platforms in 14 languages and growing. For help, contact our help desk at [email protected] .

    As Director of Outreach, and Communications at The Tor Project, Kelley Misata passionately facilitates critical conversations and strategic initiatives around responsible digital citizenship, digital safety and free of speech online for individuals, communities and industries. Her work at Tor spans across fundraising, advocacy, marketing and outreach activities with a wide array of stakeholders. Kelley combines 15 years of professional success in strategic business development, training and consulting with a unique perspective as a survivor of cyberstalking. She draws on current trends and conversations in digital security with local and federal law enforcement, information security experts and national resources to create strategies which incorporate the human side of digital safety. Bringing to the table a fearless and unique perspective drives Kelley’s successes in her professional and academic endeavors. Kelley holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, a Masters Degree in Business Administration and is currently pursuing her PhD in the Information Security Interdisciplinary Program at Purdue University.

    OpenITP improves and increases the distribution of open source anti-surveillance and anti-censorship tools by providing the communities behind these tools with many kinds of support. Follow us at @OpenITP If you would like to contribute to this column or learn more, contact Sandra Ordonez at sandraordonez AT OpenITP DOT org.

    Tagged: anonymity circumvention tool jounosec journalism security journalist security privacy tool tor tor project

    4 responses to “Getting to Know Tor, the Most Popular Anonymity Tool in the World”

    1. An article on Tor! For folks interested in an explanation of Tor / why you would want to use it / what it does / how it works you may also want to check out A Tor of the Dark Web: http://slifty.com/2012/08/a-tor-of-the-dark-web/

      This is definitely something more people need to understand.

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