Privacy has been a constant issue with virtually all major sites that you visit today, especially those that handle personal information on a regular basis. However, while most security efforts are currently directed towards the secure transfer of information from your computer to the site’s servers, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a lot of data being transmitted that can be used to identify you.
If you’re on a site where masking who you are is appropriate, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands. Not only must the transfer of data be secure, but it must also come from a seemingly unknown location.
How Do You Protect Your Identity?
The easiest way to accomplish this is via the Tor Project, which was highlighted by Chris just a few days ago. This unique project is all about masking who you are so that servers cannot identify you, retaining your anonymity on the Internet. This way, you can do whatever you need to do without facing any consequences if you’re identified.
Who Uses The Tor Project?
The Tor Project is surprisingly used by plenty of people, and the project’s website doesn’t hold back in showing what kinds of people use or could possibly benefit from using the Tor Project. Some of the more popular groups of people include hackers, but the project isn’t used only for malicious purposes. Whistleblowers are also a fairly large group of Tor Project users (whether whistleblowers are good or bad is up to you to decide, but you get the point).
The website also lists activists and media as other Tor Project users, using the service to spread the news or information they possess without giving out identifiable information to servers and other spies. Because of how the Tor Project works, you can even access websites that would otherwise be banned in certain countries or otherwise blocked by any organization.
How Does It Work?
The Tor service works by routing your web traffic through something called the “onion routing network.” It’s simply a fancy term for saying that any traffic you create will randomly route itself through multiple nodes (“layers”) until it eventually reaches the destination. Therefore, while you may have initiated the traffic, it is securely being routed to many other computers before it finally reaches the site’s servers. The server then sees the incoming traffic but identifies it as coming from the last computer in the route your traffic took. Therefore, you’re hidden.
If you click around on a site or do something else with it, Tor will send your traffic via another randomly generated path, so in the server’s eyes, the traffic seems to be coming from many different computers. Although it’s obvious for experts that, based on this pattern, the user is benefiting from a service like Tor, there is nothing they can do about it. You’re completely hidden.
Explanation aside, I must say that it works quite well. In fact, the leader of the infamous hacking group LulzSec was seemingly impossible to find as he did everything online, including his hacking activities, via the Tor service. He only recently got caught because he slipped up a single time and logged into an IRC chat server while Tor was disabled. The IP address was instantly logged on the chat server, and authorities had no trouble finding him with their new information.
How Do You Use It?
Using Tor services is quite easy to do. All you need to do is go to their website and download their Tor Browser Bundle. This includes all the necessary applications for you to get going, including a control panel named Vidalia, a patched version of Firefox, and an extension for Firefox to communicate with all the other components. Installation is simply unzipping the downloaded file into a directory or USB drive of your choice, where you can then run the Start program. That’s it!
You can now use Tor with this separate browser for maximum privacy. If you would like Tor to work with your default browser or use Tor with other Internet-enabled programs, you can download just Tor itself that will install to your hard drive, but I only recommend doing this if you have a need for it.
Please note that, without any extra modifications, Tor only works with Firefox. However, it’s easy to change a few settings in your browser in order to use Tor. Just make your browser go through a “proxy” created by Tor, located in “localhost” on port 8118. You can then check if you were successful by visiting this site.
The Tor Project is very effective at keeping your identity online a secret so you can do what you need to. It’s also fairly easy to use, and has received support from many people thanks to its open source nature, and is cross-platform. Many people have been successfully using it, so there is no doubt that you can too.
In your opinion, is Tor one of the best ways to be anonymous online? What other recommended applications exist that aim to protect your privacy? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation