Tor, An Ethical Dilema


Over the summer I have been following reporting surrounding the TOR project. I have learnt some interesting things. I must admit that I tried to download the browser but I couldn’t work out how to get it up and running, but that is probably more due to my own incompetence than anything else.

Tor has some serious issues as far as ethics goes, because it is designed to help people to remain anonymous as they use the net. This may to some seem perfectly justified given that Google and their friends are monitoring our every move and storing it all for resale later, but it is also great for criminal activity.

Recently reports emerged from Russia that the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has personally ordered preparations for laws that would block the Tor anonymity network from the entire Russian sector of the Internet. Obviously his aim is not to stop people from anonymously using the Internet, but to fight crime. The agency initiated the move as internet anonymizers were used by weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters, giving the FSB an obvious interest in limiting the use of such software.

Other reports claim that not all of Russian law enforcement are in agreement, because criminals tend to overestimate the protection provided by the Undernet, act recklessly and allow themselves to get caught. Here the so-called Undernet is the key though, as anonymity is difficult to police.

Other reports state that “Security experts have accused US law enforcement of taking advantage of a flaw in the Firefox Internet browser then exploiting it to identify and potentially monitor subscribers to Tor”. It appears that the malware comes from the USA, but nobody is admitting to creating it, and as the Russians accuse the FBI and vice versa, any truth will be difficult to find.

One truth is however that Tor allows for the proliferation of various forms of criminality and exploitation that I would rather not go into here. The problem remains though, do we have the right to online anonymity? If not who has the right to stop us?

To return to following the news, I read that workers at the NSA and GCHQ in the UK have been accused of leaking information that they have regarding flaws in the workings of Tor. These two organizations are extremely interested in the browser for the obvious reasons above, but there is more that you might expect here. According to the BBC “The BBC understands, however, that GCHQ does attempt to monitor a range of anonymisation services in order to identify and track down suspects involved in…….crimes”.

But! Tor was originally designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, and continues to receive funding from the US State Department. It is used by the military, activists, businesses and others to keep communications confidential and aid free speech.

And it turns out that the investigating agency rely on Tor for their own work, to keep themselves safe and anonymous, so they seem to be in a bit of a contradictory position to say the least.

So there appear to be many unanswered questions about the level of anonymity achieved, who has access, who works to destroy and who works to aid the project, and once more I find myself looking into a murky world.

Different ways of surfing anonymously

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Many of the file sharing websites like Mediafire, Megaupload, Rapidhshare and torrent websites like,, etc. are blocked now in India in order to stop piracy of software and movies. But music and video lovers are looking for alternate ways to access these blocked websites. There are many alternative and secure ways to access these blocked websites without using proxy.

Using VPN Client

One of the easiest options is to use free VPN (Virtual Private Networks) services which can connect your network to remote servers in other countries and you can access these blocked sites easily. VPN uses a secure VPN tunnel to connect to remote sites through private channel. There are many free VPN services like proxpn, UltraVPN, OpenVPN etc. which can be downloaded free of cost. You can download the VPN client and install it on your desktop or laptop. Once you install and connect to the internet through VPN whatever data traffic and requests come from your machine will be sent in encrypted format through a secure VPN tunnel. Also the request will be anonymous and it won’t be possible to track your source IP address as NAT (Network Address Translation) happens which converts your private IP to public IP address.

Once you have installed the VPN you can automatically access any of the blocked sites as you will be accessing through a VPN server located remotely in some other country. Hence you can enjoy downloading your favorite movies and videos from websites like MegaUpload, Rapidshare, Mediarefire and other popular torrent websites even if you use HTTPS for secure connection. VPN is secure and safe way to access blocked sites and prevents your computer from getting attacked by spyware or malware. Many of modern browsers use VPN for connecting securely over internet.

Another option is use to free DNS services like Open DNS. You can use settings as for preferred DNS and for alternate DNS server. Once you download the VPN client install in your machine and restart it. Then start the VPN client by providing the username and password which is registered while downloading the VPN software. After that select any free server in USA, UK or any other foreign country and click Connect. You will notice the message that data transfer is SSL secure and now you are connected to internet through the VPN client. Now you can access any of blocked torrent websites and file sharing sites like Rapidshare or Megaupload easily.

Using Tor Browser for Anonymous Surfing

Another easy way for accessing blocked websites is by using proxy server. There are internet filters and firewalls which monitor user traffic and block access to such illegitimate sites. But using certain advanced tools you can bypass this filter and enjoy access to such blocked websites. One such tool is the Tor browser which was designed by U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for the purpose of anonymous and secure browsing.

In order to anonymously browse through internet without relying on external proxy server, you can use the Tor browser which can be downloaded freely from Tor website

Tor ProjectOnce you download and install the Tor browser, start the application and open Vidalia control panel which automatically opens the Mozilla Firefox browser. Whatever requests come from your machine will get routed through anonymous servers maintained by Tor and will bypass internet filter which block access to specific websites. Hence, you can browse through your favorite file sharing and video sites without using an external proxy server. All, the user data will be erased from cache once you close the browser and is very secure.

EDITOR NOTE: There are many different ways you can access the internet, of which most are safe and legal. That said some methods could damage your computer and may not be legal in the country you are in, so always check beforehand – note by Christopher