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Fearing For Her Life, Tor's Developer Leaves US to Dodge The FBI

Fearing For Her Life, Tor's Developer Leaves US to Dodge The FBI
Image credit: Torproject.org
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FBI agents are increasingly targeting privacy and internet freedom’s advocates. Whether it was in infamous battle with Apple over breaking through their encrypted passcodes, to furiously fighting against end to end encryption across multiple channels, FBI has put its foot down to insist it requires necessary backdoors to access any and every device as well as app/ web service for  privacy and national security purposes. Apple cases has for the time being subdued because FBI allegedly used foreign third party hackers who were paid ridiculous amounts of money to hack into the phone, which they did, successfully, without losing its contents. In retaliation and support of the same move, Whatsapp launched end to end encryption leaving the possibility of tracking or tracing extremely difficult if not impossible. Finally, former security advisor to the NSA Edward Snowden laughed at the legal drama saying that USA already has enough technology to tap into any and every device they want, worldwide. In between all this, a startling transformation changed the landscape of privacy rights and web security for everyone – Tor, the world’s safest browser, was hacked by the FBI.

Tor’s developer Isis Agora Lovecruft, fearing that the government would try to coerce her into exposing its users identities sneaked to Germany last Thanksgiving break year, reports recently have stated. FBI agents approached her demanding to “speak”, which she knew immediately meant trouble. After struggling through the idea of what to do, she booked a two-way flight to Germany, with the return flight she had no idea of coming back to, and quietly sneaked out. The lengths the FBI is going to harass developers without charges are alarming, to say the least.

To understand what’s going on, it is necessary to understand what Tor is and what it makes it different from other browsers.

What is Tor?

For all practical purposes, Tor is the world’s safest web browser. It routes your communication through a variety of hoops before finally reaching the destination and thus masks or fakes your identity, making it almost impossible to track the user back. Tor is also a network, which utilizes Onion routing, a form of encryption to remain anonymous.

How does it work?

Onion routing is nested like the layers of an onion. Tor encrypts all data through a series of multiple times including not just the source but the destination IP as well and sends it on a virtual circuit compromising of successive, random selected relays for Tor relays. Each relay is programmed to decrypt only the next layer in order to pass the data to it. The final layer decrypts the data. Since every step of this IP hopping is encrypted, it makes any surveillance program almost impossible to track. It’s basically like an encrypted proxy, but in multiple untraceable layers.

Who is it designed for? Should your business be using it?

If you think you’re in a position to transfer extremely sensitive data, Tor may be the right browser for you to use. Journalists, activists, hackers and people in countries that do mass surveillance, or situations where anonymity would be a wise idea would use Tor. This does not necessarily include only usage that is bad per say, and is also useful in browsing when you need to browse websites that are blocked by your ISP or government.

Is it completely safe and untraceable?

Well not really, but it’s the closest it gets to anonymity right now. There have been reports of certain plugins cause a breach, and once there an exposed exploit that was being utilized by the NSA for a long while before Tor updated itself, and there have been isolated attacks that have been exposed making Tor vulnerable. But again, it is the closest we have to being anonymous. Of course, this applies only when the user makes sure external actors aren’t used for monitoring either, including but not limited to key loggers or a vulnerable plug-in.

Why isn’t everyone using Tor if it’s so secure?

The simple reason is that it is highly advance and requires a thorough knowledge of operations and how computer networks work. You need to configure a lot of settings to reach one that matches your requirement along with follow a long list of checks to ensure you’re secure system wide for a perfect situation. Since it is encrypted multiple times, the proxies also take up valuable time and data speed. Loading Tor also takes a few minutes and so does configuring. Traffic is routed along a random but complex path and so browsing speed is visibly slower than regular browsing. Also, most websites detect such proxies enabling you to cross check anti-spam security measures at every click, which make regular browsing slower. In my personal opinion, Tor is best left for extremely sensitive browsing or situations where anonymity is of vital importance.

FBI gaining access to the network is a dangerous idea. This leaves users of the free web wondering if absolute anonymity is ever possible. The future where government decides what is right and what is not, limited free expression becomes easy with such hacks. Tor users are literally the last advocates of free speech in situations where everything else fails. It is crucial for the sake of free speech and privacy rights that Tor fixes the exploit and ensures everything its power that such attacks do not happen again.

How important is your privacy online? Have you ever used Tor? Let us know in the comments on our official Facebook page Entrepreneur India

Edition: December 2016

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