Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tor: surf anonymously

Find the missing word: book ____ hole

In the UK Labour passed the RIP Act in 2000. This essentially allows our security services to snoop on all our web communications. All ISPs by law are required to log every site visited by each of their customers. Furthermore under the terms of this bill, you must surrender any encryption keys or passwords/passphrases used to protect emails or risk a prison sentence; even if you forget or lose them it becomes your responsibility to prove this e.g. guilty until proven innocent.

However all is not lost. I will discuss using encryption in a later post, but today I am going to focus on Tor.

Tor is a small program that allows you to surf the internet without giving your true IP address to any website. It even goes beyond a proxy and prevents your ISP from seeing what information you are viewing. Essentially whilst you can clear out cookies and erase your temporary files, this program actually gives you real protection against the problems of the web.

To get started have a look at where the developers offer an excellent explanation of the way Tor works and how to set it up.

Once you have Tor running, you'll notice several problems. Firstly the speed issues. Browsing the internet on a slow connection is like watching a film freeze and stop playing every few seconds. Very frustrating. There is little that can be done about this, and this is perhaps the single largest limitation to Tor. Your fantastic broadband connection will be reduced to dial-up.

You will also realise that without javascript,java, flash, shockwave and various other plugins disabled, websites will have another way of determining your IP address. Additionally I suggest being careful with cookies. This is a big blow because basically it is limiting what you can do massively.

What you end up with is a connection that is very slow, awkward to use and on top of that several sites block Tor servers. Its a big sacrifice for peace of mind.

Sadly the Tor software is now essential to privacy for anyone living in Europe, North America, Canada, China, Australia.... and the list goes on.

Answer=worm: bookworm and wormhole.

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