Tor in the Media: 2019

In 2019, mainstream coverage of privacy wins and challenges increased, and with that, so did coverage of the Tor Project. We are proud of what we accomplished last year and proud that our work advancing human rights to privacy and freedom online has caught the attention of outlets such as BBC, WIRED, Deutsche Welle, and NPR. Not only did they write about us, but some of these big names also began using and promoting our tools.

We’ve broken down 2019 coverage into sections: Tor’s Reach and Accessibility, Anti-Censorship, Onion Adoption, Ecosystem Impact, Cryptocurrency, and Advocacy. A more comprehensive list of coverage can be found after the post narrative.

Tor’s Reach and Accessibility

Inspired by major advancements in Tor Browser’s design, integration of Tor tabs in Brave browser, and the alpha release of Tor Browser for Android, Lily Hay Newman at Wired declared 2019 the year to try Tor.

“In truth, Tor has been relatively accessible for years now, largely because of the Tor Browser, which works almost exactly like a regular browser and does all the complicated stuff for you in the background. But in 2018 a slew of new offerings and integrations vastly expanded the available tools, making 2019 the year to finally try Tor. You may even end up using the network without realizing it.”

As people become more aware of how tech giants exploit their information, Tor was also cited as privacy-first alternative to Chrome.

As part of our goal to make Tor available to everyone online who needs it, we knew we needed to meet people where they are using the internet: on their mobile devices. In 2019, we made it “easier than ever” for people to use Tor by making it available on Android, and this development was written about by several publications, the most prominent of which are linked below.

Anti-Censorship

In addition to improved accessibility and privacy protections, our anti-censorship work made headlines. OONI, a project under Tor, was recognized for its contributions to documenting evidence of internet censorship worldwide.

Several outlets promoted Snowflake, an extension we released, now in an experimental stage, which empowers users of those browsers to help Tor users circumvent censorship.

Onion Adoption

To help users in censored countries reach their content, BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Mada Masr have joined ProPublica, The New York Times, and BuzzFeed News to set up onion addresses using Tor onion services. In addition to those outlets promoting their onion mirrors, other news sites also picked up on the BBC announcement. Due to the enhanced privacy and security properties onion addresses provide, in addition to their ability to help censored users bypass blocks, we expect this trend to continue. We will be focusing on scaling to meet this demand in 2020.

Ecosystem

Not all Tor benefits come from directly connecting to the network, using Tor Browser, or implementing onion services. Our innovations and techniques also help to raise the bar for privacy and security in other technologies and were written about for doing so. Firefox users now benefit from our security and privacy features, including an anti-fingerprint technique called "letterboxing." Mozilla is also exploring using Tor for a ‘Super Private Browsing’ mode. In 2019, Mozilla announced a research grant regarding Tor integration to Firefox. Currently the Firefox team is exploring testing a prototype using an add-on integration.

Cryptocurrency

This year, we were a trailblazing nonprofit organization regarding our acceptance of cryptocurrency donations. Many people in the cryptocurrency community share Tor's values of privacy and freedom online and expressed excitement about contributing to Tor through a variety of new cryptocurrencies. As one of the first nonprofits to accept cryptocurrencies on such a wide scale, we also set an example for other organizations to follow.

Advocacy

Our mission extends beyond developing tools that advance the human rights to privacy and freedom online; we also advocate for their use and other relevant critical issues necessary for a world where Tor thrives. We are proud to have joined in several campaigns in 2019 to uphold our values and speak out against dangerous demands to weaken encryption and increase surveillance.

2019 was a big year in the news for Tor, and as the demand for privacy online increases, we expect the stories to continue in 2020 as we focus on promoting our tools as the backbone of an internet that puts privacy first, by design.

Coverage

Reach and Accessibility

Anti-Censorship

Onion Adoption

Advocacy

This app satisfies some and irritates others Anonymous, I don't use it but it does block "google safe browsing " which as you know "phones home " .
I stopped that in about:config on Waterfox , I like simplicity and the less "phoning home " to Redmond or anywhere else is a positive to me a Linux user .

But I would be interested in your comment about "censorship " as I have been using Tor from my Window days and now LInux , what "censorship " are talking about ?

There has been no update for thunder bird since version 68 came - in plain text that's no Tor with Thunder bird 68 - question will they be fixing torbirdy for thunderbird 68 ?

PS i see how that is trolling - pretty straight forward 2 me

Mateus

February 10, 2020

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What about Tor adoption by users? If you'll make a manuals for setting up and configuring web server and creating onion site or forum many people will run own onion sites and use big onion forums. In antidemocratic territories running own onion site the safest way for expression and using onion forums the safest way for communication https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_same-sex_marriage People need places for free speech. People need forums for help with computing and dangerous situations. More manuals = more onion sites and forums = more people will help other people with real life situations.

> In antidemocratic territories running own onion site the safest way for expression and using onion forums the safest way for communication

Have you tried Mastodon or Pleroma instances? Use tor browser to access them. Onions are safer than them in the sense that if they don't have a normal web address, users are reminded and forced to use Tor so they don't accidentally use a normal browser or apps. Choosing server components and setting them up is incredibly diverse and doesn't depend directly on tor project's work on the Tor network.

Here's a guide. https://community.torproject.org/onion-services/

Wherever you chat, the weakest link is what is spoken. Even if you chat on onion services, anyone that speaks personal information contributes to a profile of the username that can be localised. If a friend you know in real life talks to you on an onion, you have to trust your friend not to speak your information either. On Tor, onions could still be browsed by your government, working with your government or literally could be your government. So don't share anything that can identify you. Study OPSEC, social engineering, encryption and metadata. But as far as forum onions go, there are Facebook's onion, Hidden Answers, Galaxy3, Torbook 2.0, many anonymous boards (chans) for different topics, some are mirrors of their main websites on the "clearnet". Some are mirrors setup by unknown admins. Also check out https://2019.www.torproject.org/projects/community

Mateus

February 12, 2020

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So while Mozilla announced a research grant regarding Tor integration to Firefox, Brave just went ahead and did it by integrating Tor tabs. Hmm.

> As one of the first nonprofits to accept cryptocurrencies on such a wide scale, we also set an example for other organizations to follow.

Thank you!

> So while Mozilla announced a research grant regarding Tor integration to Firefox, Brave just went ahead and did it by integrating Tor tabs. Hmm.

Not sure what you are suggesting, but FWIW, there is a security advantage in not moving too quickly with critical technology, as the recent Democratic Party Iowa Caucus vote reporting app debacle (and a host of other recent fails) recently reminded us.

Mateus

February 15, 2020

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Great collection of links!

On censorship, I would like to highly recommend a print book: James Griffiths, The Great Firewall of China, Zed Books, 2019.

Lots of insight into

o GFC
o one party rule in China
o the crackdowns in Hong Kong and East Turkestan (Xinjiang Province)
o surveillance capitalism
o the HB Gary Federal leak

etc. The author covered the Umbrella protests in Hong Kong and has travelled extensively in China and interviewed many dissidents inside China and abroad.

Griffiths mentions Tor in passing and seems to feel that very few dissidents in China can actually obtain legit Tor Browser code (but foreigners who travel outside China can do so), but he does at least appreciate that Tor Browser was a revolutionary advance in anti-censorship tech.

I have no connection to the book and no connection to Tor Project other than as a user.

Mateus

February 15, 2020

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Thanks for the recent post detailing the BugSquash program!

I would like to see blog posts by an experienced and trusted Tor coder on

o status of work toward growing the Tor network, especially exit routers
o status of any attempts to gain funding for developing a Tor Messenger II
o status of work toward protecting the Tor directory authorities from compromise
o status of diversification (geolocation, ASNs, operating systems, operators)
o the problem of large families operated by "anonymous" and possibly hostile entities
o wild and crazy ideas for cobbling together useful things from Tor plus other items

Does anyone know why Raspberry Pi apparently does not support LUKS? Too much work for the processors? If this issue can be overcome, I feel that a version of Tor for raspbian (armhf hardware) would be a second revolutionary advance in Tor tech.

But the most urgently needed item of missing Tor tech continues to be what we hoped Tor Messenger would provide: a safe, convenient, cross-platform messaging service which completely bypasses the absurd unsafety of email and existing messaging services (note that there are serious issues with Signal, probably the most used messenger by activists, and indeed with smart phones generally).