Tor 101: Protecting Yourself Against Internet Surveillance

Inside the Dark Web

BBC (2014)

Film Review

Inside the Dark Web is about Tor, a technology that prevents government and corporations from spying on us when we use the Internet.

The World Web has been described as the world’s best tracking device, thanks to the wealth of information it provides about our daily activities. Many families have computerized home appliances that are connected via the Internet (referred to as the Internet of Things). This enables coffee makers, furnaces, coffee makers, etc to turn themselves on and off automatically when we wake up or enter or leave the house. These set-ups allow private companies to collect and store vast amounts of information about our personal lives.

Government and Corporations Are Building Dossiers on Us

No one realized how much Internet data NSA and their British counterpart GCHQ were collecting until Edward Snowden began leaking documents about it in 2013. Private technology companies compile even more detailed documentation (which they regularly turn over to NSA and GCHQ about our Internet activities). Every time we browse, they build detailed dossiers about our reading and browsing habits and sell them to multiple advertisers. For example, if a young woman Googles for pregnancy related information, within hours, she will be bombarded with pregnancy and childbirth ads.

The Onion Router

Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, was develop by the US Naval Research Laboratory in the 1990s for the purpose of protecting online intelligence communications. It combines three layers of encryption with three relay computers belonging to Tor volunteers. Each relay computer removes a layer of encryption and passes the original signal to the intended recipient without revealing the original user.

In 2004, the Navy released the code for Tor under a free licence, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) began funding its continued development. The State Department actively encouraged its usage by anti-Assad activists in Syria and various Arab spring organizers. The US government is less happy about American dissidents using Tor to expose his criminal activities. Whistleblowers used Tor to leak documents to Wikileaks and Snowden used it to leak confidential files.

Silk Road

The term “dark web” refers to criminal enterprises that use Tor to escape detection by government authorities. The most notorious is Silk Road, a website that connected anonymous illicit drug dealers and buyers. Purchases were paid for in bitcoins, a virtual currency created by computer algorithm as opposed to a bank. Like cash, bitcoins are totally untraceable because the users are anonymous.

On Silk Road, people responded to a drug offer by depositing the specified amount of bitcoins in an escrow account. Once they notified the Silk Road administrators they had received the drugs, the bitcoins held in escrow were released to the seller.

In 2013 the FBI temporarily shut down Silk Road by arresting its anonymous founder Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts), a Texas investment advisor. Ulbricht has just recently been convicted of conspiring to sell narcotics, hacking and counterfeiting documents. You can read all about the trial on Wired

Criminal enterprises also use Tor and bitcoins for other illegal activities, such as websites that sell guns, stolen credit card details and the sexual services of children.

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