Tor – a Free Anonymous Surfing Software

I run a website that promotes anonymous surfing software. Most of the products on my site require a monthly fee, or a one time fee. That’s how I get paid – I make commissions. However, one product, Tor, does not require any sort of payment to download. There are no hidden fees, and no pushing for upgrades, and they provide quite a few different tools all aimed at anonymous surfing. From their home page, it seems that they’re dedicated to fighting Internet censorship and increasing user-awareness of the dangers of exposing your IP address online. They even have a lot of high-profile clients like the US military and other law enforcement/reporting agencies.

It was immediately obvious that there were some loop holes in the Tor software, and that it is not a “complete anonymity” tool. There are lots of exceptions to the rule, blocked stuff (like Java, YouTube, and other video related stuff), and specific configurations you have to set to be able to open up a relatively normal Internet experience and not expose your IP. In part, it shows where Tor lacks. However, I think it shows more about how they operate – that they’re completely honest, and will admit where their weak points are. Seeing as their goal is fighting Internet censorship, and not making money, they can be very clear from the start what Tor can do, and what it shouldn’t be use for.

But there are some serious points to consider before using Tor. So, old information (from 4 years ago) – There was a Swedish guy who was able to hack into high profile government officials accounts, get emails and phone numbers by monitoring traffic on Tor, the whole thing is explained here. Tor goes into the idea of “exit nodes”, which is how this guy stole the information. Tor explains how to avoid this issues, and where it can’t be avoided, so read up for more details. And the issues with tor don’t stop there.

More recently, a guy named Bruce Schneider made a post about using Tor and downloading bit torrents. He was able to, “… reveal 10,000 IP addresses of Tor users. Using these IP addresses, we then profile not only the Bit Torrent downloads but also the websites visited per country of origin…”. That post was made in March 2011, and you can read more here. Tor discusses this on their website, and Slashdot and talks a bit about it in this post.

Needless to say, there are several other studies and posts online that show Tor’s weaknesses. Is it that tor is a free tool, and developers have got to cut corners? Are these typical problems that all proxies face? Are these issues that other anonymous surfing services deal with but don’t openly discuss? These are some of my unanswered questions.

However, Tor is not a tool to simply forget about. As a free anonymous surfing software tool available for download directly do your PC/Phone and/or to USB/CD, and even more so as a service developed with ideals of free Internet (and not your wallet), they deserve the support of the Internet community. Though there are some security issues with Tor, follow their instructions closely, contact their support team for help, and you can browse the Internet anonymously all over the world.

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