There’s a free method of searching the Internet that’s so anonymous and secure the National Security Agency wants to destroy it. It’s called TOR or the Onion Router, and documents obtained by The Guardian indicate that both the NSA and its British partner GCHQ have been unable to crack TOR.
An NSA analyst described TOR as the “king of high-secure, low latency internet anonymity.”
So what is TOR and how can you use it? Basically, TOR is a network that bounces your searches and communications all over the Internet via several different computers making them hard to track. You access TOR using a special browser or an app.
The NSA has had such a hard time trying to crack TOR that it actually created a top secret presentation called TOR Stinks. TOR Stinks was among the documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian. Its author wrote: “We will never be able to de-anonymyze all TOR users all the time.” That means the NSA will never be able to identify all TOR users.
How TOR works
The most interesting thing about TOR is that it was developed by the US government, specifically the State Department and the Defense Department. The idea was to create a secret and secure means of communication for spies and dissidents.
TOR works by creating an encrypted packet of Internet traffic that is bounced through a number of nodes or servers. TOR users use a special Firefox web browser that sends all of the traffic through the TOR network. This is hard to track because it isn’t moving through normal channels.
A TOR user in Nebraska might have her Internet traffic routed through a node in Manitoba and another Node in Great Britain which would confuse a person trying to locate her. It isn’t perfect but it’s a pretty good way of covering your tracks online.
A good way to think of TOR is as another secret Internet inside the Internet. It’s currently used by spies, dissidents, journalists and special operations soldiers such as those in Delta Force. These are called Darknets and they’re often used by criminals as well as the government.
The NSA has made a number of efforts to crack TOR. It’s tried to insert malicious code into TOR’s browser bundle. The NSA had been using a hole in Firefox to infiltrate TOR but that’s recently been plugged.
How to use TOR
Using TOR is easy; just visit the TOR website. The site has several downloadable tools that can help protect your anonymity online. These include:
- A TOR Browser. There are different versions for Windows, Linux and Apple OSX.
- Orbot, a TOR app for Android devices
- Tails, an operating system preconfigured to use TOR
- Pluggable Transports so you can take TOR with you wherever you go
- A TOR cloud
- Tools for writing scripts and preconfiguring TOR
The TOR website is a great resource that provides connections to a wide variety of excellent tools for thwarting surveillance efforts. If you’re serious about anonymity online, it is the place to begin.
It appears there is an effective and low-cost method that enables the average person to avoid most surveillance. That method was created with our tax dollars, and another government agency is using our tax dollars in an attempt to destroy it. It is possible for average people to frustrate the NSA with TOR.