How Tor networks offer anonymity

Tor, Psiphon, Signal and Co: This is how I navigate the Internet anonymously

How do I actually become visible to others on the Internet?

Basically, all Internet traffic is visible to everyone who has access to the server through which it flows - similar to how a postcard can be read by any postman. A lot of data can reveal my identity. First there is the IP address of my computer.

Nowadays, users are often recognized by data from the computer: Unique properties of browser plugins, screen resolution, window size, language, time. Very precise fingerprints of the users can be created, which make someone 98 percent identifiable to a web server even without an IP address.

If a regime blocks certain websites - how can I still access them?

In the past only static proxies were used. Often it was just simple IP addresses that forward the Internet traffic. That worked as long as the censors didn't notice and the proxies didn't know. However, many states are now blocking all unpleasant proxies.

Proxies can also be used to disguise its actual origin from the operator of a website. For this you can, for example, take the detour via Anonymouse or a variety of similar anonymization services.

How do I build a tunnel?

Virtual private networks (VPN) are somewhat more complex. To do this, you set up an encrypted tunnel connection to a server, for example in another country. Nobody can look into the tunnel. With VPN, for example, companies provide their employees with a secure connection to the internal company network.

The tunnel can also be used to get from a censored area into the free Internet. But censorship authorities can easily see that it is a VPN connection and who is operating it. Today the censorship regimes have become much more vigilant and block static proxies relatively quickly. In addition, proxies do not offer anonymity. VPN networks are also often forbidden. So you had to come up with something new, like the Tor network.

What is gate

Tor means "The Onion Router." It's built up like an onion - in layers. Tor helps me anonymize and hide. I am not connected to the server from which I want to retrieve my information via the shortest route, but via detours, so-called Tor nodes.

Each of these Tor nodes has its own encryption layer over my browser behavior, so that the other Tor nodes cannot read it either. That makes surfing very safe.

Can I access all websites with the Tor browser?

There are special Tor websites with so-called onion services. Deutsche Welle also provides such a service.

These services are very secure. But I can also call up all other normal websites with the Tor browser. At that moment, a user leaves the Tor network and anonymity is somewhat limited, but the operator of the website that someone is visiting cannot recognize the IP address or any unique features of the browser - because Tor suppresses this information.

So you can't tell who I am, but what am I doing?

A censor can in principle recognize the traffic, i.e. what the Internet traffic looks like, but cannot necessarily read anything out of it. That's why Tor has evolved.

In order to circumvent censorship, Tor has developed so-called "pluggable transports". They make internet traffic appear completely different. For example, when someone surfs a website, it can look like a video conference, normal email traffic, or anything else. It also changes back and forth all the time. Therefore, it is more difficult for censors to follow the surfing history.

Can censorship authorities outsmart the pluggable transports?

For example, if the censorship authorities suspect that Tor traffic has been disguised by a pluggable transport, they may send their own traffic afterwards to see how the server responds.

If the traffic is disguised as a video conference, for example, you can see whether the server is responding like a video conference server. But because the server responds differently, the regime then disconnects.

How do I get into the Tor network from a censored country?

People who live in countries where the internet is censored need bridges. These are bridges that lead to the well-known entry nodes to the Tor network, which are usually blocked by the regimes.

Every Tor user can make a bridge available and turn their own computer into a virtual entry point. So as many people as possible who live in countries with a free Internet should do this, because then people in countries with a censored Internet have many different options to get into the Tor network.

As a layperson, how do I proceed if I want to use Tor?

It's very simple: The current Firefox-based Tor browser for my operating system is available for download on the Tor project's website. The browser can then also be operated like a normal browser. Only then is the user traveling anonymously.

What do I have to consider if I live in a censored country?

It is important to have the correct settings in the Tor browser if you want to use a censorship bypass. Unfortunately, the settings are somewhat hidden in the Firefox browser. There is a separate gate area there. When installing Tor, the browser asks once whether you are in a censored country. If you confirm this, the Pluggable Transport will load itself.

The Pluggable Transports can also be downloaded from the existing Tor browser settings. And the bridges are also loaded. The Tor browser itself searches for current bridges. The settings are where I also set the Pluggable Transports: "Give me fresh bridges". If the first bridge doesn't work, the browser takes the second and so on.

How can I, as a user in a free country, support people in censored countries?

If you live in a non-censored country, Tor asks you if you would like to provide a bridge yourself. The Internet speed may then suffer a little. But with today's high-speed Internet connections, this is probably no longer so important.

In order to offer many bridges, there is the "Snowflake" project. How does it work?

Snowflake is a project in which all users with normal Chrome or Firefox browsers can provide bridges. You don't need a gate yourself.

It is hoped that as many users as possible will make such bridges available. The project is called Snowflake because the bridge only exists as long as someone is surfing. After that, the snowflake virtually melts away and is no longer recognizable.

Do I have to accept restrictions when surfing with Tor?

You have to forego comfort. In the standard setting, for example, Javascript is suppressed and cookies are not saved. This means that the browser does not save any passwords or fill out any forms in advance.

There are also websites or entire infrastructure operators who do not want any traffic from the Tor network because they fear it could be dangerous or untrustworthy. But even the internet giants are now realizing that Tor traffic is not evil per se.

How big is the risk of being caught by the regime as a Tor user?

The traffic up to the bridge can possibly be identified. Normally the traffic is just streaked and blocked. But there is a risk that the authorities will continue to investigate the user.

What is the difference between the Darknet and Tor?

The Darknet uses the Tor protocol. But not everyone who uses Tor belongs to the Darknet. Facebook, the New York Times, BBC and Deutsche Welle also use Tor.

So Tor is not a place for illegal activity, but a protocol that is used to anonymize those who have a legitimate interest in it.

There are other tools that can be used to circumvent censorship, such as Psiphon. What's this?

Psiphon is a commercial provider from Canada that has been working with media such as Deutsche Welle for a very long time and has created a product for the needs of the free media.

Psiphon offers apps and computer programs that try different censorship circumvention mechanisms one after the other. Various servers, proxy servers, VPN technologies and so on are used.

If you use Psiphon via Deutsche Welle, you will see the DW offers and can then use any other website on the free Internet.

More on this: China: Deutsche Welle defies increased internet censorship

How do I get access to Psiphon as a user?

Psiphon helps DW to provide the download source for the program or app. They are in the cloud because the censorship regimes cannot afford to block the big cloud services because the collateral damage would be too great. If you want to use Psiphon, it is best to contact Deutsche Welle directly at [email protected]

Are there also secure messaging services?

Many people use instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, Facebook's messenger service. But this service, for example, has fallen into disrepute because it reads the phone books of its users and it is not clear where the data ends up. A free app called Signal is safer.

With it you can not only chat securely, but also make phone calls. And there is a desktop application for the computer. In contrast to other services, the source code for Signal is open and therefore IT security experts can verify that it is really secure.

Are there search engines that respect privacy?

Yes, they do exist - search engines - unlike Google or Bing - do not record, save or process any of their users' IP addresses. Then there is no annoying, personal advertising. These search engines are called DuckDuckGo or Startpage.

What are browser add-ons?

There are other tricks you can use to make browsing safer. This includes add-ons that block cookies, trackers or scripts such as Java. Examples of this are uBlock Origin or the Privacy Badger. They are installed via the browser settings.

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