Using Tor hidden services for good
Getting good stories for Tor successes is tricky, because if Tor is doing its job, nobody notices. I know a lot of people who have really interesting Tor success stories and have no interest in telling the world who they are and how they managed (until that moment when everybody is reading about them, that is) to stay safe.
Still, there are a bunch of other stories out there that haven't been documented as well. For example, I really like Nasser's story about his experiences in Mauritania:
Hidden services have gotten less broad attention from the Tor user base, since most people who install Tor have a website in mind like twitter or indymedia that they want to visit safely. Some good use cases that we've seen for hidden services in particular include:
- I know people (for example, in countries that have been undergoing revolutions lately) who run popular blogs but their blogs kept getting knocked offline by state-sponsored jerks. The common blogging software they used (like Wordpress) couldn't stand up to the ddos attacks and breakins. The solution was to split the blog into a public side, which is static html and has no logins, and a private side for posting, which is only reachable over a Tor hidden service. Now their blog works again and they're reaching their audiences. And as a bonus, the nice fellow hosting the private side for them doesn't need to let people know where it is, and even if somebody figures it out, the nice fellow hosting it doesn't have any IP addresses to hand over or lose.
- Whistleblowing websites want to provide documents from a platform that is hard for upset corporations or governments to censor. See e.g. http://globaleaks.org/
- Google for 'indymedia fbi seize'. When Indymedia offers a hidden service version of their website, censoring organizations don't know which data centers to bully into handing over the hardware.
- Data retention laws in Europe (and soon in the US too at this rate) threaten to make centralized chat networks vulnerable to social network analysis (step one, collect all the data; step two, get broken into by corporations, criminals, external governments, you name it; step three comes identity theft, stalking, targeted scam jobs, etc etc). What if you had a chat network where all the users were on hidden services by default? Now there's no easy central point to learn who's talking to who and when. Building one and making it usable turns out to be hard. But good thing we have this versatile tool here as a building block.
That's a start. It is certainly the case that we (Tor) spend most of our time making the technology better, and not so much of our time figuring out how to market it and change the world's perception on whether being safe online is worthwhile. Please help. :)
This blog post was adapted from an email to tor-talk by Roger. See the original email at https://lists.torproject.org/pipermail/tor-talk/2011-November/021997.ht…