Open source Advent calendar: Tor browser for anonymously surfing


It’s an advent calendar for tech-savvy people. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything is owned by a large internet company. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently verified for possible security breaches and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the motivation for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to the company.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding. Some projects are supported by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time staff, or a consortium. The work is done entirely on a voluntary basis, or it is funded through donations, cooperation with internet companies, government funding, or an open source business model. Whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether it is a PC program, an application or an operating system, the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding.

An Unusual Career: Thanks to long-term government funding, the Child of Military Research has become the most important weapon against government control of the Internet.

The Tor anonymization browser directs data traffic to its destination through three stations and disguises IP addresses. This enables anonymous and uncensored use of websites: ISPs only see the first Tor node, not the travel destination. You cannot log in or prevent access to the website. Instead of the IP address used, websites only see the last of the three Tor nodes. And secret services that spy can’t make sense of the data traffic either.

Tor Originally stands for “The Onion Router” and is developed by the American organization The Tor Project. The technology is under the 3-clause BSD license. The main application is the Tor browser for PC. Tor Browser for Android is the official Android application; Onion browser is recommended for iOS, developed by a member of the Tor community. A by-product is the Darknet under the .onion pseudo-termination, accessible with the Tor browser.

The first work on what would later be called “Tor” began in 1995 at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), a US Navy research laboratory. Mathematician Paul Syverson wanted to develop digital technology in which US military and intelligence agencies could travel anonymously. From the start, it was clear that the technology had to open up to society and be open source, because for the real purpose it had to cover traffic, massive data traffic coming from completely different users: to the inside, who see Tor as trustworthy.

Released in 1996 a first paper and a prototype with simulated nodes was set up. 2002 became a Pre-alpha version introduced in 2003, Tor went live with a dozen nodes. 2004 appeared with Tor: the second generation onion router a design paper that is still valid today.

In 2006, the US military officially separated from Tor. The Tor Project as a Seattle-based nonprofit supported further development. The decree according to the last annual report had an annual budget of $ 4.4 million between July 2019 and June 2020 and had 18 employees.

The highest decision-making body is a ten member board of directors, chaired by IT security entrepreneur Rabbi Rob Thomas. Munich lawyer Julius Mittenzwei, member of the Chaos Computer Club, is also on the board of directors. The Managing Director is Isabela Bagueros, longtime Tor Project Manager. The top earners are the two Tor veterans, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson, with a monthly salary of around US $ 10,000.

The narrow core of the community consists of around 90 people. Various Tor-based programs originate from the community, such as the Darknet file exchange program OnionShare, the live operating system based on Tor Tails or the darknet smartphone messenger Heather.

More recently, almost 50% of the Tor Project budget came from US funding. In the years 2007 to 2020, it averaged 67 percent. About 20 percent of the funds came from the Department of Defense, State Department, and the US Agency for Global Media, and seven percent from the National Science Foundation. The proportion of individual donations was 6%, but has risen sharply in recent years. Other notable donors were the Swedish Foreign Ministry (seven percent) and the Mozilla Foundation (four percent).

Mozilla, the smallest regular donor, plays a key role in software. Tor Browser for PC and Tor Browser for Android are based on the Firefox browser. This Tor Uplift Team from Mozilla ensures that the features of Tor and Firefox browsers work seamlessly with each other.

Global digital civil society provides the infrastructure: around 6,200 obfuscation stations, whose Tor browser always selects three to anonymize data traffic. There are also around 1500 hidden Bridge knotwhich are used when internet service providers block standard nodes.

Tor nodes are managed on a voluntary basis by individuals, general (digital) organizations such as the Digitalcourage association or Reporters Without Borders, and by specialized objective associations such as F3 Netze, les Amis de l’Oignon or the Artikel10 association in Germany. The German goal community plays a key role in the infrastructure. About a third of global Tor traffic is running on German nodes.

Use every day around the world between 2 and 2.5 million people Tor, the largest Tor nation, is the United States, followed by Russia and Germany. Around 180,000 people in this country are active in the Tor network every day.

Due to its distributed architecture, open source nature, and active community, Tor is superior to commercial and centralized VPN anonymization services. Reaching a goal is theoretically possible, but only with great effort and within narrow limits.

The Tor browser is used to bypass censorship in dictatorships and to undermine Western mass surveillance, to buy drugs on the Darknet, to communicate between whistleblowers and newsrooms, and for all types of cybercrime. And certainly still for the initial purpose, the anonymous digital operation of the secret services and the army.

26 years after its creation, Tor is the most contradictory open source technology, both in terms of use, organization and history: Tor is in fact a joint project between digital civil society and the US government. A military research project has become the most important antagonist of state surveillance and censorship, thanks to reliable government funding.

The work on the article series is based in part on a grant “Neustart Kultur” from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, awarded by VG Wort.


Disclaimer: This article is generated from the feed and not edited by our team.


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