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Tor: The Onion Router

Tor — an acronym for The Onion Router — is a freely available, open-source program developed by the U.S. Navy about a decade ago. Originally sponsored by the US Naval Research Laboratory, Tor became an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) project in late 2004. The EFF supported Tor financially until November 2005 and continues to provide web hosting for the project. Its basically a browser plug-in, it thwarts online traffic analysis and related forms of Internet surveillance by sending your data packets through different routers around the world. As each packet moves from one router to the next, it is encoded with encrypted routing information, and the previous layer of such information is peeled away — hence the "onion" in the name.

Basically, Tor is a way to surf the Internet anonymously. Someone looking up potentially sensitive information might prefer to use it — like a person who is worried about potential exposure to a sexually transmitted disease and shares a computer with roommates. Abuse survivors might not want anyone else knowing they have visited Web sites for support groups related to rape or incest. Journalists in repressive regimes with state-controlled media use Tor to reach foreign online news sites, chat rooms, blogs, and related venues for information.

Like all current low latency anonymity networks, Tor is vulnerable to correlation attacks from attackers who can watch both ends of a user's connection. Because of this, Tor is not suitable for protection against observation when the observer has access to both ends of the communication, for example a government with access to a large number of Internet service providers.

How Tor came to my notics was through an article about an University Professor, Mr. Paul Cesarini, being questioned for using Tor for academic purposes. On September 11th of 2006, Seven ISPs and individuals were raided and six confirmed computers seized by German police -- but not purely for operating as anonymity proxy servers using the Tor network protocol. The premise of the seizures was that the servers showed up in a server log of a child pornography site. According to German civil liberties advocates in Germany who talked to the police, there are dozens if not hundreds of computers, in addition to the Tor nodes, that were also seized. Tor executive director, Shava Nerad, expects all the computers to be returned to the server operators, none of whom have been charged with any crime, after the servers have been cleared from any involvement in the sting. However, Nerad also cautioned, "I don't believe German police have a deep understanding of how an anonymizing system works and none of these routers have logs." How in the name of Hell could they find these server logs is the big question here. According to one of the Tor operators whose server was confiscated, no criminal charge has yet been filed against him.

What is it with anonymity and freedom of speech that freaks out Government, Police and other so called Security organizations that make them go to such lengths as the ones mentioned above. Aren't they the ones that have been placed to protect the peoples right against any such infringement of freedom?

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