Tor an Anonymity Network

This post is for people who don’t already know what Tor is. If you already know what Tor is and how to use it, then I would recommend that you read another one of my posts.

What Tor Is
Tor is basally an anonymity network which is made up of nodes or “relays”. These relays might also be referred to as Onion Routers (OR’s) or simply routers. These relays route information in a way that it is nearly impossible for one person or organization to compromise your anonymity. Onion routing is just that, routing information in a way where communication occurs anonymously. Tor was written in C, which is a general purpose programming language. Tor was originally designed, implemented, and deployed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Therefore it was originally developed with the U.S. Navy in mind, for the purpose of protecting government communications. Today, it is used every day for a wide variety of reasons by normal people; the military, journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, and many others (as said on the Tor project’s website). The Tor network is run today by everyday people who understand the value that Tor brings to the internet and want to help the network grow.

How Tor Works
Tor was designed with a privacy by design approach, which means privacy was taken into account throughout the whole engineering process. The Tor network is made up of nodes as I said above. Today more than five thousand nodes makeup the Tor network. Whenever you connect to the Tor network you first connect to a directory authority that sends you a signed document containing a list of router descriptors, along with short summary of the status of each router. Once you have that information you then find the best path through the network and start a TLS connection with an entry relay. After you connect to the entry relay the entry relay then starts a TLS connection with a middle relay. Finally the middle relay starts a TLS connection with an exit relay then you exit the network and go to your destination out on the internet. Depending on the relays that you are connected to you might change to different relays over time. Also, about every 10 minutes, you connect to a different exit relay for exiting the network. For a more in depth lesson on how this works, you can visit Tor project’s website or contact me by email and I would be happy to explain things a little more.

How Tor Works with Bridge Relays
If you are using a bridge to connect to the Tor network then you simply add in another hop for the bridge relay and all of the other routes are pretty much the same. So now when you connect to the Tor network you first start a TLS connection with your bridge, then the bridge connects to a directory authority. Once you find your path through the network your bridge starts a TLS connection with an entry relay. After you connect to the entry relay it then starts a TLS connection with a middle relay. Finally the middle relay starts a TLS connection with an exit relay then you exit the network and go to your destination out on the internet.

Tor “Hidden Services”
Hidden services are where the darknet sites such as Silk Road exist. These hidden services are usually websites that are hosted anonymously on the Tor network. This is usually interpreted as a very bad thing because of the media. However this design can actually be very useful and can be a good thing for web hosts trying to avoid DDoS attacks (as I covered in my Denial of Service Attacks post) and even physical attacks because the location of the actual server(s) is hidden from the users.

Why Tor Is Different
Tor is not the only anonymity network out there but all of the other anonymity networks that I have seen lack important features. I2P is another option but you can’t exit the I2P network. This means it can’t be used for any service that exists on the actual internet. Freenet is another option but just like I2P you also can’t exit the Freenet network. Some people don’t like Tor because they say it is too centralized unlike I2P and Freenet. In reality Tor is still very decentralized. The only component of Tor that is somewhat centralized would be the “hidden services”. Hidden services are hosted on one server or a cluster of servers and because the information on that hidden service is not replicated out to every other node on the network some people say it is too centralized. If you are using I2P or Freenet then every bite that is on your system is replicated out the other nodes on the network. This is the same concept that Bittorrent and cryptocurrencies use. This concept is great for some applications, but for other things like hosting hidden services, I don’t think it is a great idea. If you have some darknet site like Silk Road, you would not want that information replicated out to every other node on the network. Some of the information on Silk Road’s servers could be sensitive and they would not want anyone else to see it other than the user who owns the information.

How to Use Tor (The Basics)
There are several different ways you can use Tor. You can run Tor nodes to help the network grow or you can simply use Tor to protect and anonymize your IP traffic. If you would like to run Tor nodes the easy way, instructions can be found here. If you would like to just download and use the Tor browser bundle to protect and anonymize your IP traffic click here. If you have any questions about Tor, you can post your question on Tor’s support form or you can email me and I would be up to answering your questions.

This article is just an overview of Tor. If you want to learn more about Tor then I would recommend that you visit Tor project’s website. I would also like to point out that PJHoodsCo (who owns and operates blog.pjhoodsco.org) also hosts Tor nodes to help keep the internet free and open for everyone. If you would like to find out more information on the Tor nodes that PJHoodsCo owns and operates click here.

 

Thank you all for taking the time to read this post and as always God bless!

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Preston Hood
Hello, my name is Preston Hood. I am the owner of PJHoodsCo, an Information Technology Service Provider (ITSP). I am also a freelance writer and information security researcher.
Preston Hood

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