Tor is a software application that is used to access the Dark Web. The Tor Project describes their software as “free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis” (Tor Project).
Tor is technically an Onion-Routing system (Dingledine et al., 1). While I’m generally hesitant to use Wikipedia as a source, they do offer a digestible definition of what Onion-Routing is:
Onion routing is a technique for anonymous communication over a computer network. Messages are repeatedly encrypted and then sent through several network nodes called onion routers. Like someone peeling an onion, each onion router removes a layer of encryption to uncover routing instructions, and sends the message to the next router where this is repeated. This prevents these intermediary nodes from knowing the origin, destination, and contents of the message (Onion Routing, Wikipedia).
Essentially, one is anonymized using Tor since it sends your data through different nodes (or servers) and encrypts the data along the way, so that by the time it reaches the destination, it is extremely difficult to track where the user actually came from.
Interestingly enough, Tor was created “as a third-generation onion routing project of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. It was originally developed with the U.S. Navy in mind, for the primary purpose of protecting government communications.” (Overview, Tor). It is ironic because, as we will see, one can use Tor to access confidential government documents.
Users & Uses
Tor advertises their various uses on their website. It almost seems as if they realize what their commonly associated use is, and therefore try to distance themselves from that associated deviancy. The Tor websites notes that Tor “is used every day for a wide variety of purposes by the military, journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, and many others” (Who Uses Tor?, Tor)
The Tor site offers specific examples, and for example, specify that militaries use Tor for “Intelligence gathering: Military personnel need to use electronic resources run and monitored by insurgents. They do not want the webserver logs on an insurgent website to record a military address, thereby revealing the surveillance” (ibid) and that “Human rights activists use Tor to anonymously report abuses from danger zones. Internationally, labor rights workers use Tor and other forms of online and offline anonymity to organize workers in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (ibid).
Tor makes a point of implying that their product has mainstream uses, and even advertises to business executives. In addition, they have reviews from groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that praise Tor for the services they offer.
Next, Logging On