What Is Tor?

Tor is a project that allows users to browse using a network built around anonymity. If I visit a website right now in a typical browser that website will see my IP and if someone is between me and the website (like on my router) they can potentially see what I’m sending and receiving.

A typical network will go something like:

Me -> Router -> Server

And if I use encryption between me and the server the router can’t see what I’m doing.

When connected to the Tor network it looks more like this:

Me -> Router -> Node1 -> Node2 -> Node3 -> Exit Node -> Server

Tor attempts to provide perfect forward secrecy by encrypting the contact between each Tor node and it always routs you through multiple nodes. This means that if an attacker is in any of those areas they can’t see or interfere with the connection. If they control the server they see your connection coming from the ‘Exit Node’ ensuring that no one could possibly tell where you’re going.

The downside of this is that there’s significant latency and overhead for the network. Tor nodes have to encrypt and communicate with each other and the number of communications drastically increases compared to a typical setup.

If you want to use Tor you should check out the Tor Browser Bundle here.

The browser is portable Firefox with HTTPS-Everywhere and NoScript already installed and configured. It it highly recommended you use this as it’s already tailored to the systems needs – any difference could potentially lead to an information leak, allowing an attacker to learn your IP and information.

Tor really isn’t for every day browsing. It’s much too slow. But if you need to be anonymous it’s a great way to do it.

Three Simple Steps To Stay Private Online

Privacy is definitely a big issue lately. People are starting to realize how much information they really put out there, and it can be scary. The thing is, most people also don’t really care enough to do anything about it and trying to attain significant levels of privacy is just a huge pain (TOR, VPN, whatever.) That’s why I’ll just list three incredibly quick and painless ways to help stay a bit more private online.

Block Third Party Cookies

Third party cookies are used to track a user across multiple sites. They really don’t serve too much of a purpose except for tracking.

Chrome:

Wrench -> Settings -> Show Advanced Settings -> Content Settings -> Block Third Party Cookie and Site Data

Firefox:

Edit -> Preferences -> Privacy -> Set “Firefox Will” to “Custom Settings” and uncheck “Accept Third Party Cookies”

Install Adblock Plus With Privacy Filter:

Adblock Plus is available for Chrome and Firefox. It includes Do Not Track and can make use of privacy specific filters.

Get Adblock Plus for: Firefox | Chrome

Then go to: http://adversity.uk.to/ and install the “Antisocial” list.

Use Private Browsing/ Incognito Mode

This may seem obvious to some but many people aren’t aware that there are “private browsing” modes provided by their browsers.

These private sessions won’t store any information on your computer about what sites you’re visiting and is useful for ensuring that your session stays private to anyone else who has access to the computer.

Chrome: Control + Shift + N

Firefox:  Control + Shift + P

These are just three very simple steps to help you maintain privacy while you browse. They aren’t “perfect” and there are still issues to be worried about but for the average user I think the above information will suffice.

So Why Aren’t Third Party Cookies and Ads Blocked By Default?

I think people need to understand that by blocking ads and tracking you are fighting the one thing that keeps the internet alive. Websites are run by ads. The world, really, is run by ads but that’s a bit out of scope.

The point is that if you’re on a website you like go ahead and whitelist it with Adblock Plus. Maybe you’ll see an ad you like and they’ll get a bit of cash so that they can continue to providing you with that site.

Sources:

https://www.cdt.org/privacy/20090804_browser_rpt_update.pdf

adblockplus.org