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OPLIN 4cast #403: Tor privacy

Posted in 4cast

Tor onion logoOver the weekend, Boing Boing published a piece about libraries in Massachusetts that are using the Tor browser on their public PCs to protect patron privacy. If you’re not familiar with Tor, it is free software that allows users to browse the Internet anonymously. It’s sometimes called “the onion router” because it sends browser requests through a roundabout network, hiding the original computer within layers of other computers, somewhat like the layers on an onion. Tor has also been in other news recently because of a claim that some employees of government spy agencies – like the National Security Agency (NSA) – have been helping Tor by passing them information about security breaches spies have used. If true, that would be an interesting development. But is it true?

  • Radical Librarianship: how ninja librarians are ensuring patrons’ electronic privacy (Boing Boing | Alison Macrina and April Glaser)  “Others have installed Firefox with privacy-protecting browser plugins like, Ad-Block Plus, and The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger tools. Still more are setting up Tor middle relays on their libraries’ networks. One librarian said that the workshop made her feel ‘thoroughly empowered…[to] help stop illegal surveillance against my patrons.’ Amazing.”
  • NSA and GCHQ agents ‘leak Tor bugs’, alleges developer (BBC News | Leo Kelion)  “The allegations were made in an interview given to the BBC by Andrew Lewman, who is responsible for all the Tor Project’s operations. He said leaks had come from both the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the US National Security Agency (NSA). By fixing these flaws, the project can protect users’ anonymity, he said. ‘There are plenty of people in both organisations who can anonymously leak data to us to say – maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this,’ he said. ‘And they have.’”
  • How Tor’s dark web is getting darker thanks to spies (Tech Cheat Sheet | Natalie Shoemaker)  “Covert operations, like GCHQ, ‘heavily relies on Tor working to be able to do a lot of their operations,’ according to Lewman. But there’s also a seedy underbelly of child porn and illegal drug sales. You have to take the good with the bad if you want to protect your privacy these days. There are over 150 million people who have downloaded the browser in the past year, of which 2.5 million use it each day. It’s important to consider the people who are in dire situations, people who may be fighting against oppression that rely on networks like these–the ‘dark web’–in order to stay hidden and protected.”
  • Are government spies tipping off Tor? (Top Tech News | Jennifer LeClaire)  “He [Tyler Reguly, director of security research for Tripwire] told us this isn’t the first time that this topic has been discussed and no one should be naive enough to think that it will be the last. ‘Just a few weeks ago questions were raised about the safety of Tor. Stating that these organizations are assisting in increasing Tor’s safety is the perfect marketing ploy,’ Reguly said. ‘The statements can’t be verified and they help reduce concerns regarding privacy breaches while using Tor.’”

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