How to vanish on the internet

27 January 2006

Tor aims to provide "a usable anonymizing network on the Internet" -- a somewhat bland-sounding description masking a potential revolution in the way we think about online privacy. It’s an open-source technology that could be crucial for activists, dissidents and journalists under oppressive regimes, and may also address many of the privacy issues that have recently been causing a stir in the wider net community.

There are already some neat applications: Torpark is a Tor-equipped version of the Firefox browser  that can be run from a USB pen drive, which makes it possible for Chinese or North Korean (or even American) bloggers to work in internet cafes with a more secure connection. Anonym.OS takes things even further: a fully Tor-secured version of the world’s most crypto-heavy operating system, which can be installed ‘live’, meaning that it is not installed to the hard drive, but run off a CD, thus making no permanent or traceable changes to the host computer. A portable USB version is expected soon, one which would remove the need for administrator privileges, or to reboot the computer. Dissident bloggers in China would clearly benefit from this, as public, shared terminals are the only internet access available for many.

Unfortunately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which had been funding Tor until late 2005, has run out of money for the project. The network lacks enough servers to cope with the exploding demand, and this has affected both the speed and the ability of the network to escape the attention of the Chinese firewall. If you’re interested in contributing to Tor’s development, the website has a list of things you can do to help:

 (from tor.eff.com)

  1. We need users like you to try Tor out, and let the Tor developers know about bugs you find or features you don't find.
  2. Please consider running a server to help the Tor network grow.
  3. Run a Tor hidden service and put interesting content on it.
  4. Take a look at the Tor GUI Competition, and come up with ideas or designs to contribute to making Tor's interface and usability better. Free T-shirt for each submission!
  5. Tell your friends! Get them to run servers. Get them to run hidden services. Get them to tell their friends.
  6. We are looking for funding and sponsors. If you like Tor, please take a moment to donate to support further Tor development. Also, if you know any companies, NGOs, or other organizations that want communications security, let them know about us.

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