heart of Internet freedom

Tor at the Heart: Security in-a-Box

This is one of a series of periodic blog posts where we highlight other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
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Security in-a-Box

More than ten years ago, Tactical Tech and Front Line Defenders started providing digital security trainings for human rights defenders at risk around the world. Soon thereafter, they created Security in-a-Box to supplement those trainings and to support self-learning and peer-education among those defenders.

Security in-a-Box offers general advice and practical walkthroughs designed to help its users secure their digital information and communication by choosing the right software and integrating it into their daily lives.

Hands-on guides

Security in-a-Box offers a number of Tool Guides that explain step-by-step how to download, install, and use digital security tools on Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, and Android. Some of these guides that were recently updated in 11 languages include:

  • Tor Browser for anonymity and censorship circumvention (on Windows & Linux)
  • Signal for encrypted messaging and Voice-over-IP calls on Android
  • VeraCrypt for file encryption (on Windows & Linux)
  • Thunderbird and OpenPGP for email encryption (on Windows & Linux)
  • KeePassX for secure password management (on Windows & Linux)
  • Firefox with add-ons for more secure web browsing (on Windows & Linux)
  • Jitsi and OTR for encrypted instant messaging (on Windows & Linux)

Other Tool Guides cover setting up a Riseup email account, securing the Windows operating system, and protecting data when using social networking platforms (like Facebook and Twitter).

Security in-a-Box also includes a few community-specific toolkits that are tailored for LGBTI communities in The Middle-East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, for Environmental rights defenders and for Women human rights defenders.

Tips and Tactics

As digital security is a process that extends well beyond the adoption of specific tools, Security in-a-Box also offers Tactics Guides that propose new ways of thinking about security and recommend practices that might strengthen it. Some of these include:


Over the years, a community of digital security trainers, editors, translators, and privacy advocates has sprung up around Security in-a-Box. Many digital security trainers from Africa, Latin America, Central and Southeast Asia, Europe and North America rely on Security in-a-Box for their trainings and contribute to its development.

Thanks to the project’s community translators, Security in-a-Box is published in 17 different languages. Recently updated translations include: Arabic, Spanish, Farsi, French, Indonesian, Portuguese, Russian, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese and Chinese. As a result, Security in-a-Box reaches well over a million people each year with advice on digital security, online privacy and censorship circumvention.

None of this would have been possible without the work of the software developers who create these tools in the first place, and to whom we are extremely grateful. Donate to the Tor Project today!

Written by Maria Xynou (Tactical Tech) and Wojtek Bogusz (Front Line Defenders)

Tor at the Heart: The Tor Project

Throughout the month of December, we've highlighted a few of our fellow travelers on the road to Internet freedom in a series of blog posts titled "Tor at the Heart." We wanted to show some of the many other projects out there and their connection to us. Just like a heart, Tor helps to fortify these projects as they provide Internet freedom around the world.

This past year we saw very dangerous trends of Internet censorship growing around the world. Activists in Brazil, China, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkey all experienced serious censorship events. The entire African continent saw a spike of censorship events, especially in Uganda, Chad, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Congo and Burundi.

Technological tools like Tor are often the only way people within those countries can communicate to the outside world.

Tor is also important for those of us lucky enough to live in countries without major censorship events. Journalists use Tor to communicate more safely with whistleblowers and dissidents. Everyday people use Tor to keep their Internet activities concealed from advertisers, ISPs, and web sites. Tor is important for anyone who doesn't want their browsing habits linked to them.

2016 has been a very busy year at the Tor Project. We created our own UX team to improve our tools usability, we fixed zero-days in less than 12 hours, we have started to apply very strong sandboxing to Tor Browser, we kicked off the next generation of onion services project, and we have done many other important updates on our network and applications.

And 2017 is shaping up to be even more intense. We are working to deploy new features, including better mobile connectivity and better visualizations of our data so that others can easily explore and learn from them. We are working to improve the user interface on our website and various apps. And we’re working on better ways to safeguard our users, including sandboxing Tor at the application level and investigating quantum computing.

As we wind down our 2016 end-of-year fundraising campaign, won't you take a minute to contribute a financial donation? Giving is easy, and you'll get the warm glow of knowing that you've done your small part to help someone in an oppressive part of the world be able to get her story out to the rest of us. We'll even throw in a t-shirt and/or other swag, if you choose, so you can show the world how cool you are and that you care about digital freedom.

To donate:


Thanks for your help. Here's wishing you and yours a healthy, happy 2017!

Tor at the Heart: Firefox

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Donate today!

Firefox <3 Tor Browser

by Ethan Tseng and Richard Barnes

If you’ve used Tor, you’ve probably used Tor Browser, and if you’ve used Tor Browser you’ve used Firefox. By lines of code, Tor Browser is mostly Firefox -- there are some modifications and some additions, but around 95% of the code in Tor Browser comes from Firefox. The Firefox and Tor Browser teams have collaborated for a long time, but in 2016, we started to take it to the next level, bringing Firefox and Tor Browser closer together than ever before. With closer collaboration, we’re enabling the Tor Browser team to do their jobs more easily, adding more privacy options for Firefox users, and making both browsers more secure.

The Tor Browser team builds Tor Browser by taking Firefox ESR and applying some patches to it. These changes add valuable privacy features for Tor Browser users, but having these changes also means that every time the Tor Browser team wants to use a new version of Firefox, they have to update the patches to work with the new version. These updates take up a substantial fraction of the effort involved in producing Tor Browser.

In 2016, we started an effort to take the Tor Browser patches and “uplift” them to Firefox. When a patch gets uplifted, we take the change that Tor Browser needs and we add it to Firefox in such a way that it’s disabled by default, but can be enabled by changing a preference value. That saves the Tor Browser team work, since they can just change preferences instead of updating patches. And it gives the Firefox team a way to experiment with the advanced privacy features that Tor Browser team is building, to see if we can bring them to a much wider audience.

Our first major target in the uplift project was a feature called First Party Isolation, which provides a very strong anti-tracking protection (at the risk of breaking some websites). Mozilla formed a dedicated team to take the First Party Isolation features in Tor Browser and implement them in Firefox, using the same technology we used to build the containers feature. The team also developed thorough test and QA processes to make sure that the isolation in Firefox is as strong as what’s in Tor Browser -- and even identified some ways to add even stronger protections. The Mozilla team worked closely with the Tor Browser team, including weekly calls and an in-person meeting in September.

First Party Isolation will be incorporated in Firefox 52, the basis for the next major version of Tor Browser. As a result, the Tor Browser team won’t have to update their First Party Isolation patches for this version. In Firefox, First Party Isolation is disabled by default (because of the compatibility risk), but Firefox users can opt in to using First Party Isolation by going to about:config and setting “privacy.firstparty.isolate” to “true”.

We’re excited to continue this collaboration in 2017. Work will start soon on uplifting a set of patches that prevent various forms of browser fingerprinting. We’ll also be looking at how we can work together on sandboxing, building on the work that Yawning Angel has done for Tor Browser and the Firefox sandboxing features that are scheduled to start shipping in early 2017.

Finally, we should recognize the value of the continued collaboration between Mozilla and the Tor Project with regard to security vulnerabilities. The importance of this collaboration was on display only a few weeks ago, when we were both simultaneously notified of a zero-day exploit targeted at Tor Browser using a vulnerability in Firefox. Working together, we were able to develop, test, and ship a fix to both browsers in under 24 hours.

The collaboration between the Firefox and Tor Browser teams is a great example of how Mozilla’s principles of openness and participation can help advance security and privacy in the Internet. We’re proud of all we’ve accomplished together with the Tor Project in 2016, and we’re looking forward to continuing to making the web more secure and more private.

Tor at the Heart: Notes from a Board Member

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Donate today!

Tor Saves Lives

by Cindy Cohn

I joined the Tor Board of Directors because Tor saves lives.

By allowing people to access knowledge, share information, organize and find communities of support in otherwise hostile environments, Tor represents one of the strongest examples of how technology can be marshaled to serve the causes of freedom, safety, liberty and human rights for people around the world. It’s easy enough to say: “speak truth to power” when the risks are low. To ensure that people can really do that in today’s digital world – where the stakes can be much, much higher – often requires some technical assistance. That’s where Tor comes in.

Before I started fighting for freedom online, I was a human rights lawyer. I spent time at the United Nations and helped organize a small NGO, called the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, which serves as a central hub for oppressed groups seeking a voice internationally. Its members range from the Ogoni in Nigeria to Tibetans to West Papuans. I saw first hand how hard it is to sneak information about human rights abuses out of repressive countries and how important it is to build networks of support inside and outside of those environments.

This experience is why, when I first learned about Tor, I immediately saw how it sits at the heart of ensuring that the world we’re building with digital technologies can be at least as much, if not more humane than the physical world. In addition to helping those facing government repression, Tor also serves as protection closer to home, and even inside the home for those seeking information and assistance to escape from domestic abuse. Tor of course has other uses, some good and some rotten, but that’s no different than most technologies. Even a hammer can be used to hit someone over the head. The difference is in what we do with it.

So when Shari Steele and I talked about how to usher Tor into its next phase, I offered to join with her to do it.

I have a core belief that those of us with access to power – be it personal, technical, legal or situational – have a duty to try to steer it toward empowering the people in the rest of the world to live better, safer and more free lives. That Tor exists demonstrates that many others share this core belief. The knowledge that there is a large posse of us building and supporting these tools, along with the courage shown by those who rely on Tor, keeps me energized.

There’s no doubt that a strong, well-run Tor can help more people. While the work of ensuring that the organization stays strong, stays on course, pays its bills and treats people well isn’t always the glamorous part, it’s necessary. For me, helping Tor do that well is how I help Tor save lives.

Please support the Tor Project!
Donate today!

Tor at the Heart: Qubes OS

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Donate today!

Qubes OS

by Michael Carbone and Andrew David Wong

Qubes OS is a security and privacy-oriented free and open source operating system that provides you with a safe platform for communications and information management. Its architecture is built to enable you to define different security environments (or "qubes") on your computer to manage the various parts of your digital life, including safely using Tor.

"If you're serious about security, @QubesOS is the best OS available today. It's what I use, and free. Nobody does VM isolation better."
--- Edward Snowden

Qubes OS allows you to safely manage the different communications, data, and identities in your digital life in securely compartmentalized qubes. All of these qubes are integrated into a single desktop environment with unforgeable colored window borders so that you can easily identify applications and windows from different security environments.

Some features of Qubes OS include:

Safer anonymous browsing

Qubes incorporates Whonix to provide a safer way to use Tor Browser, by compartmentalizing the Tor Browser and Tor process in separate qubes. This means that if the Tor Browser is exploited, the attacker still cannot discover your real IP address, because the Tor Browser and its qube do not know your real IP address. Moreover, that compromise cannot spread from Tor Browser to the Tor process, since they are isolated in different qubes, so any other Tor-related activities you have in other qubes remain secure and private.

Enforce Tor use for non-Tor-aware applications

Once a qube is set to use the Tor network, all network traffic that leaves it is forced to go through Tor. This means that no matter which applications you use, they will not be able to leak your real IP address, even if they are not Tor-aware.

All software and OS updates through Tor

Qubes allows users to download all software and OS updates through Tor, which means that network attackers can't target you with malicious updates or selectively block you from receiving certain updates. In addition, downloading all updates through Tor preserves your privacy, since it prevents your ISP and package repositories from tracking which packages you install.

Robust and safe networking

In addition to easily running non-Tor-aware programs through the Tor network, you can -- at the same time -- have other qubes go through VPNs or be non-networked, for instance to enable easily accessible but offline storage of sensitive information like your password manager. Common attack vectors like network cards are isolated in their own hardware qube while their functionality is preserved through secure networking and firewalls.

Secure communications

Qubes is integrated with existing secure communications tools like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) to provide security-in-depth and reduce user error. With Split-GPG functionality, a compromise of your email client does not enable an adversary to access your private PGP key.

Safely interact with untrusted media

You can open an untrusted attachment from your email client, and any potential malicious payload in the document is isolated to a separate disposable, non-networked qube. No information from that session can be sent to the attacker, since it is not connected to the internet, and after the document has been read, the entire domain is deleted. You can convert the PDF to a “trusted PDF” that is known not to be malicious, which you could then share with colleagues or save in an offline Documents qube for later reference. In the same way, a potentially malicious DOC file can be opened in a disposable qube that enables the user to edit the file, save it, and send it without providing an opportunity for potential computer compromise.

Windows integration

Many users still rely on Windows-based programs for their work. Qubes enables them to do so securely.

Physical security

Qubes also protects your computer against some physical attacks. If an adversary plugs a malicious USB device into your computer while you're not watching, it isn't game over. Qubes isolates the entire USB stack from the rest of the system. And if you want to dual-boot, or if your computer is seized at the border and then returned, you can tell whether a malicious bootloader was installed, so you know not to input your decryption password.

Smooth integration of qubes

Integrated file and clipboard copy and paste operations make it easy to work across various qubes without compromising security. The innovative Template system separates software installation from software use, allowing qubes to share a root filesystem without sacrificing security (and saving disk space).

There are many different ways to contribute to Qubes, including creating artwork, reporting bugs, editing documentation, making financial contributions and more. If your company would like to license Qubes, please contact the Qubes team.

Tor at the Heart: Whonix

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Donate today!


Whonix is a privacy ecosystem that utilizes compartmentalization to provide a private, leak-resistant environment for many desktop computing activities. Whonix helps users use their favorite desktop applications anonymously. A web browser, IRC client, word processor, and more come pre-installed with safe defaults, and users can safely install custom applications and personalize their desktops with Whonix.

Whonix is designed to run inside a VM and to be paired with Tor. Whonix is composed of two or more virtual machines that run on top of an existing operating system. The primary purpose of this design is to isolate the critical Tor software from the risk-laden environments that often host user-applications, such as email clients and web browsers. Whonix consists of two parts: the first part solely runs Tor and acts as a gateway for a user's Internet traffic, called Whonix-Gateway. The other, called Whonix-Workstation, is for a user's work and is located on a completely isolated network. Even if the user's workstation is compromised with root privileges, it cannot easily reveal IP addresses or leak DNS requests or bypass Tor, because it has neither full knowledge nor control over where and how its traffic is routed. This is security by isolation, and it averts many threats posed by malware, misbehaving applications, and user error.

One of Whonix's core strengths is its flexibility. Whonix can run on Linux, MacOS, or Windows. It can torrify nearly any application's traffic running on nearly any operating system, and it doesn't depend on the application's cooperation. It can even isolate a server behind a Tor Hidden Service running on a separate OS. It can route traffic over VPNs, SSH tunnels, SOCKS proxies, and major anonymity networks, giving users flexibility in their system setups.

Whonix was originally built around compatibility-focused Virtualbox, then time-tested KVM was added as an option. Now Whonix is shipped-by-default with the advanced, security-focused virtualization platform QubesOS. Whonix even supports Qubes' DisposableVMs.

Whonix has a safe default configuration that includes a restrictive firewall, privacy-enhanced settings for Debian, AppArmor profiles, and pre-configured and stream isolated applications.

The Whonix team is currently focused on improving usability for new Whonix users. A Quick-Start Guide will be available shortly to allow users to install and try Whonix on most existing systems.

Whonix is based in Germany but has users and developers from around the world. Like many open-source projects, Whonix depends on the donations and contributions of supporters. It's easy to get involved!

Tor at the Heart: NetAidKit

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Donate today!

by Menso Heus

The NetAidKit is a USB-powered router that connects to your wired or wireless network and helps you increase your privacy and beat online censorship for all your devices. Acting as a friendly man-in-the-middle, the NetAidKit is able to send all your network traffic over a VPN or Tor connection without needing to configure any of your devices. This also means that if you have specific hardware devices that are unable to run Tor, you can simple connect them to the NetAidKit to make all the traffic go over Tor anyway.

Free Press Unlimited and Radically Open Security developed the NetAidKit specifically for non-technical users, and the NetAidKit comes with an easy to use web interface that allows users to connect to Tor or upload OpenVPN configuration files and connect to VPN networks.

The NetAidKit transparently routes traffic over Tor. We believe this is a great (and free) way to circumvent censorship, but it obviously does not provide the same anonymity benefits that the Tor Browser Bundle provides. This is something we warn users about specifically every time they connect to Tor, recommending they also the Tor Browser Bundle if they wish to remain anonymous.

At the same time, by routing all traffic over Tor, NetAidKit provides a tool for users' e-mail, social media clients and other network applications to run over Tor as well, providing Tor's benefits to applications other than a browser.

The NetAidKit runs on OpenWRT and uses the OpenWRT tor client. Current challenges include getting the obfuscating protocols to work on the NetAidKit since it has a limited storage capacity. We hope that in 2017 we can improve Tor support further by collaborating with the Tor Project.

For more information and links to our Github repository, visit https://netaidkit.net/

Tor at the Heart: OnionShare

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Donate today!

By Micah Lee

In August 2013, David Miranda was detained for nine hours and searched at Heathrow Airport in London while he was trying to board a plane back home to Rio de Janeiro. Working on a journalism assignment for the Guardian, he was carrying an encrypted USB stick that contained classified government documents. When I first learned about this story, I knew there must be safer ways to move sensitive documents across the world than physically carrying them, one that didn’t involve putting individual people at risk from border agents and draconian “terrorism” laws that are used to stifle award-winning journalism.

Here’s how I would have done it: In Berlin (where the secret files originated), I would set up a local web server on my computer, that isn’t accessible from the internet. The only thing on the website would be a download link to an encrypted file that contained the secret documents. Then I would setup a Tor onion service -- one of the coolest and most under-appreciated technologies on the internet, in my opinion -- to make this simple website accessible from a special “.onion” domain name. I would send my colleague in Rio (in this case, Glenn Greenwald) the URL to the onion service. He would open it in Tor Browser and download the encrypted file. As soon as he finished the download, I would stop the local web server and remove the onion service, so it would no longer be on the internet at all.

Of course, the problem is that while this may be simple for seasoned nerds like myself, it’s not for many journalists, activists, or lawyers who run into similar problems on a regular basis. Inspired by this idea, I developed a simple and user-friendly open source tool called OnionShare that automates this process. You open OnionShare, drag some files into it, and click the “Start Sharing” button. After a moment, OnionShare gives you URL that looks something like http://4a7kqhcc7ko6a5rd.onion/logan-chopin. You send this URL to someone you’d like to share files with, and they load it using Tor Browser and download the files directly from the web server running on your computer. The moment the download is complete, OnionShare shuts down the web service, the URL no longer works, and the files you shared disappear from the internet. (Since OnionShare runs a server directly on your computer, this also means that your computer needs to be online for the URL to work -- if you suspend your laptop, for example, the URL won’t work until you get back online.)

Onionshare server side

Onionshare client side

I’m the developer of OnionShare, but I have no idea how many users it has. I consider this a feature. It’s completely decentralized, anonymous, and private. I don’t run a central service -- instead, every user runs their own short-lived service, often only for a few minutes, and that service disappears as soon as they finish sharing their files.

However, I do know that people use it. I use it on a regular basis myself while working on sensitive journalism projects with my colleagues at The Intercept. Sources use it to send me and other journalists documents. I’ve heard from digital security trainers that OnionShare is used by the Movement for Black Lives in the United States, and by activists in Latin America. A European human rights lawyer told me that their client in Africa used it to send them sensitive files.

What OnionShare protects against:

  • Third parties don't have access to files being shared. The files are hosted directly on the sender's computer and don't get uploaded to any server. Instead, the sender's computer becomes the server. Traditional ways of sending files, like in an email or using a cloud hosting service like Dropbox or Google Drive, require trusting the service with access to the files being shared.

  • Network eavesdroppers can't spy on files in transit. Because connections between Tor onion services and Tor Browser are end-to-end encrypted, no network attackers can eavesdrop on the shared files while the recipient is downloading them. If the eavesdropper is positioned on the sender's end, the recipient's end, or is a malicious Tor node, they will only see Tor encrypted traffic.

  • Anonymity of sender and recipient are protected by Tor. OnionShare and Tor Browser protect the anonymity of the users. As long as the sender anonymously communicates the OnionShare URL with the recipient, the recipient and eavesdroppers can't learn the identity of the sender.

  • If an attacker enumerates the onion service, the shared files remain safe. There have been attacks against the Tor network that can enumerate onion services. If someone discovers the .onion address of an OnionShare onion service, they still cannot download the shared files without knowing the full URL, and OnionShare has rate-limited to protect against attempts to guess the URL.

What OnionShare doesn't protect against:

  • Communicating the OnionShare URL might not be secure. The sender is responsible for securely communicating the OnionShare URL with the recipient. If they send it insecurely (such as through an email message, and their email is being monitored by an attacker), the eavesdropper will learn that they're sending files with OnionShare. If the attacker loads the URL in Tor Browser before the legitimate recipient gets to it, they can download the files being shared. If this risk fits the sender's threat model, they must find a more secure way to communicate the URL, such as in an encrypted email, chat, or voice call. This isn't necessary in cases where the files being shared aren't secret.

  • Communicating the OnionShare URL might not be anonymous. While OnionShare and Tor Browser allow for anonymously sending files, if the sender wishes to remain anonymous they must take extra steps to ensure this while communicating the OnionShare URL. For example, they might need to use Tor to create a new anonymous email or chat account, and only access it over Tor, to use for sharing the URL. This isn't necessary in cases where there's no need to protect anonymity, such as coworkers who know each other sharing work documents.

You can find the source code for OnionShare here, and you download it from its website here.

Tor at the Heart: OONI Highlights from 2016

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Donate today!

In this post we provide some highlights from OONI, a project under The Tor Project.

The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) is a free software project under The Tor Project that aims to uncover internet censorship around the world. Recently we published an overview of OONI which can be found here.

Today we are providing some OONI highlights from 2016. These include our research findings in collaboration with our partners, and the new features we have developed and released to meet our users’ needs.

Research findings

As part of the OONI Partnership Program we collaborate with various local and international non-profit organizations around the world on the study of internet censorship. Below we provide some highlights from our research findings this year.

Censorship during elections

  • Uganda: Facebook and Twitter blocked during 2016 general elections. In collaboration with DefendDefenders we examined the blocking of social media in Uganda during its 2016 general elections and when the country’s President was inaugurated. View our findings here.
  • Zambia: Internet censorship events during 2016 general elections. OONI monitored internet censorship events during Zambia’s 2016 general election period in collaboration with Strathmore University’s Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT). A full report of our study can be found here.
  • The Gambia: Internet shutdown during 2016 presidential election. We attempted to examine whether websites were blocked during the Gambia’s 2016 presidential election. Instead, we came across a country-wide internet blackout. View our findings here.
  • Venezuela: Blocking of sites during elections. IPYS conducted a study of internet censorship in Venezuela through the use of ooniprobe. Their full report can be found here.

Censorship during other political events

  • Ethiopia: Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology used to block media websites during major political protests. OONI joined forces with Amnesty International to examine internet censorship events during Ethiopia’s wave of protests. We not only detected DPI filtering technology, but we also found numerous sites - including news outlets, torproject.org, LGBTI and human rights sites - to be tampered with. Now Ethiopia is in a state of emergency. Our report can be found here.
  • Turkey: Internet access disruptions during attempted military coup. In collaboration with RIPE Atlas we examined the throttling of social media in Turkey during the attempted military coup in July. View the findings here.
  • Ethiopia: Internet shutdown amidst political protests. Ethiopia’s government pulled the plug on the internet in the middle of heavy protests in August. We examined the internet shutdown in collaboration with Strathmore University’s Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) and published our findings here.

Tor blocking

  • Egypt: Tor interference. Our community informed us that certain services were inaccessible in Egypt. We investigated the issue and also found Tor to be tampered with. View our findings here.
  • Belarus: Tor block. An anonymous cypherpunk helped us collect evidence of Tor blocking in Belarus. View the data here.

WhatsApp blocking and DNS censorship

  • Brazil: Blocking of WhatsApp. Thanks to Coding Rights who ran our newly developed WhatsApp test, we were able to detect and collect evidence of the blocking of WhatsApp in Brazil earlier this year. View the data here.
  • Malaysia: DNS blocking of news outlets, medium.com, and sites expressing political criticism. Following the 1MDB scandal, various news outlets were reportedly blocked in Malaysia. OONI joined forces with Sinar Project to examine and collect evidence of internet censorship events in Malaysia. Our report can be found here.

New releases

If you’ve known OONI for a while, you might be more familiar with ooniprobe as a command line tool. To meet our users’ needs, we developed a variety of features this year, including the following:

  • OONI Explorer: A global map to explore and interact with all of the network measurements that OONI has collected from 2012 to date.
  • Measurement API: Explore and analyze OONI’s data via its new API.
  • OONI web UI: Run censorship tests from your web browser!
  • WhatsApp & Facebook Messenger tests: Examine the reachability of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger with OONI’s new tests!
  • Web Connectivity test: Examine DNS, TCP/IP, HTTP blocking of sites all in one test!
  • Lepidopter: Run ooniprobe from a Raspberry Pi!
  • OONI mobile: We have developed the beta version of ooniprobe for Android and iOS. Look out for ooniprobe’s mobile app in early 2017!

Over the last year, many non-profit organizations around the world have started running ooniprobe daily. The graph below illustrates the expansion of ooniprobe’s global coverage thanks to our users.

By supporting Tor, you’re also supporting the OONI project. Help us continue to increase transparency around internet censorship by donating to The Tor Project.

Written by Maria Xynou, OONI’s Research and Partnerships Coordinator.

Tor at the Heart: PETS and the Privacy Research Community

During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom. Donate today!

So far in this blog series we've highlighted mainly software and advocacy projects. Today is a little different: I'm going to explain more about Tor's role in the academic world of privacy and security research.

Part one: Tor matters to the research community

Just about every major security conference these days has a paper analyzing, attacking, or improving Tor. While ten years ago the field of anonymous communications was mostly theoretical, with researchers speculating that a given design should or shouldn't work, Tor now provides an actual deployed testbed. Tor has become the gold standard for anonymous communications research for three main reasons:

First, Tor's source code and specifications are open. Beyond its original design document, Tor provides a clear and published set of RFC-style specifications describing exactly how it is built, why we made each design decision, and what security properties it aims to offer. The Tor developers conduct design discussion in the open, on public development mailing lists, and the public development proposal process provides a clear path by which other researchers can participate.

Second, Tor provides open APIs and maintains a set of tools to help researchers and developers interact with the Tor software. The Tor software's "control port" lets controller programs view and change configuration and status information, as well as influence path selection. We provide easy instructions for setting up separate private Tor networks for testing. This modularity makes Tor more accessible to researchers because they can run their own experiments using Tor without needing to modify the Tor program itself.

Third, real users rely on Tor. Every day hundreds of thousands of people connect to the Tor network and depend on it for a broad variety of security goals. In addition to its emphasis on research and design, The Tor Project has developed a reputation as a non-profit that fosters this community and puts its users first. This real-world relevance motivates researchers to help make sure Tor provides provably good security properties.

I wrote the above paragraphs in 2009 for our first National Science Foundation proposal, and they've become even more true over time. A fourth reason has also emerged: Tor attracts researchers precisely because it brings in so many problems that are at the intersection of "hard to solve" and "matter deeply to the world". How to protect communications metadata is one of the key open research questions of the century, and nobody has all the answers. Our best chance at solving it is for researchers and developers all around the world to team up and all work in the open to build on each other's progress.

Since starting Tor, I've done probably 100 Tor talks to university research groups all around the world, teaching grad students about these open research problems in the areas of censorship circumvention (which led to the explosion of pluggable transport ideas), privacy-preserving measurement, traffic analysis resistance, scalability and performance, and more.

The result of that effort, and of Tor's success in general, is a flood of research papers, plus a dozen research labs who regularly have students who write their thesis on Tor. The original Tor design paper from 2004 now has over 3200 citations, and in 2014 Usenix picked that paper out of all the security papers in 2004 to win their Test of Time award.

Part two: University collaborations

This advocacy and education work has also led to a variety of ongoing collaborations funded by the National Science Foundation, including with Nick Feamster's group at Princeton on measuring censorship, with Nick Hopper's group at University of Minnesota on privacy-preserving measurement, with Micah Sherr's group at Georgetown University on scalability and security against denial of service attacks, and an upcoming one with Matt Wright's group at RIT on defense against website fingerprinting attacks.

All of these collaborations are great, but there are precious few people on the Tor side who are keeping up with them, and those people need to balance their research time with development, advocacy, management, etc. I'm really looking forward to the time where Tor can have an actual research department.

And lastly, I would be remiss in describing our academic collaborations without also including a shout-out to the many universities that are running exit relays to help the network grow. As professor Leo Reyzin from Boston University once explained for why it is appropriate for his research lab to support the Tor network, "If biologists want to study elephants, they get an elephant. I want my elephant." So, special thanks to Boston University, University of Michigan, University of Waterloo, MIT, CMU (their computer science department that is), University of North Carolina, University of Pennsylvania, Universidad Galileo, and Clarkson University. And if you run an exit relay at a university but you're not on this list, please reach out!

Part three: The Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium

Another critical part of the privacy research world is the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS), which is the premiere venue for technical privacy and anonymity research. This yearly gathering started as a workshop in 2000, graduated to being called a symposium in 2008, and in 2015 it became an open-access journal named Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies.

The editorial board and chairs for PETS over the years overlap greatly with the Tor community, with a lot of names you'll see at both PETS and the Tor twice-yearly meetings, including Nikita Borisov, George Danezis, Claudia Diaz, Roger Dingledine (me), Ian Goldberg, Rachel Greenstadt, Kat Hanna, Nick Hopper, Steven Murdoch, Paul Syverson, and Matt Wright.

But beyond community overlap, The Tor Project is actually the structure underneath PETS. The group of academics who run the PETS gatherings intentionally did not set up corporate governance and all those pieces of bureaucracy that drag things down — so they can focus on having a useful research meeting each year — and Tor stepped in to effectively be the fiscal sponsor, by keeping the bank accounts across years, and by being the "owner" for the journal since De Gruyter's paperwork assumes that some actual organization has to own it. We're proud that we can help provide stability and longevity for PETS.

Speaking of all these papers: we have tracked the most interesting privacy and anonymity papers over the years on the anonymity bibliography (anonbib). But at this point, anonbib is still mostly a two-man show where Nick Mathewson and I update it when we find some spare time, and it's starting to show its age since its launch in 2003, especially with the huge growth in the field, and with other tools like Google Scholar. Probably the best answer is that we need to trim it down so it's more of a "recommended reading list" than a resource of all relevant papers. If you want to help, let us know!

Part four: The Tor Research Safety Board

This post is running long, so I will close by pointing to the Tor Research Safety Board, a group of researchers who study Tor and who want to minimize privacy risks while fostering a better understanding of the Tor network and its users. That page lists a set of guidelines on what to consider when you're thinking about doing research on Tor users or the Tor network, and a process for getting feedback and suggestions on your plan. We did a soft launch of the safety board this past year in the rump session at PETS, and we've fielded four requests for advice so far. We've been taking it slow in turns of publicity, but if you're a researcher and you can help us refine our process, please take a look!

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