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Tor Online Anonymity - Friend or Foe?

The Onion Routing Project (now known as Tor) represents freedom of information flow, using Internet space that cannot be completely monitored by global government regulations and other regulatory authorities and organizations. It uses a strong encrypted technology to surf the bright surface and dark depth of the internet with anonymity. Utilizing strong nodes and relay encryption, it also allows covert channels to experience the dark side of the Internet. It’s easy to see how it has also become a haven for hackers, criminals and abusers.

Tor easily bypasses most available access layer security solutions such as advanced next generation firewalls and other accompanied technologies. It uses dynamic proxies and constantly changing IPs in the internet over common ports, mostly 22 and 443. Every node on Tor networks masks the identity of the origin by changing IPs at each node and adopting advanced encryption metamorphism and mutations to preserve users’ anonymity, so it is virtually impossible to trace down the originator. Check out a live feed of Tor.

Public Use of Tor

Since Tor provides sophisticated encryption and surf anonymity, it can be leveraged as a secure channel between end users. From emails to bank transactions, or shopping to sharing information, portals can be surfed to perform online activities. However, users should be cautious as Tor is outlawed in the eyes of the government and Internet regulators. Once you hack in to Tor, you are essentially on your own because of the anonymity and there is no regulation. It is understandable why it is often compared to the Wild West.

The bright side of Tor is that it uses portals of information indexes bigger than general indexes such as Google and Yahoo. It has been used for scientific research, valuable information indexing, authentic information sharing and freedom of information and its availability.

Commercial Use of Tor

No censorship means freedom of information flow and transactions. Commercially, businesses set up private VPN, encryption and authentication of information while riding the open Internet. However, for example, Tor can be leveraged as a free encrypted and secure medium at the application level blending with a businesses’ Internet policies, authenticating and authorizing information. It means VPNs can be established between businesses at browser level over Tor networks that can save business expenses on sophisticated Internet VPN technology investment and maintenance.

Scientific and Research Use of Tor

Initially, Tor was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and is still being used by them. The scientific community and researchers are also adopting Tor to share experiences and brainstorm ideas to integrate findings. In fact, openness of scientific research at this level opens doors for far-removed communities and scientific societies.

Dark Use of Tor

Since there is no censorship, regulators cannot completely to stop Tor. It is a fertile space for hackers, criminals, black traders and abusers. Child pornography sharing, selling of drugs and weapons, extortions, killings, live criminal feeds, gambling, even prostitution and criminal auctions are performed in Tor on a regular basis. It’s a wild territory.

In Tor, most business transactions run on Bitcoin, so it is hard to trace down dark buyers and sellers. The Silk Road is one of the metamorphic business portals on Tor networks.

Overall Benefits of Tor

  • Defends against you and your traffic being monitored and analyzed, which may threaten your freedom of information facilitation and privacy.
  • Provides sophisticated encryption and hashing at each node that allows you to perform confidential business activities and generates a sense of strong security.
  • Communication over the Internet gets propagated via distributed network of proxies and relays run by volunteers around the globe that prevents information leakage and provides anonymity.
  • Provides a secure place to provide your services and information storage, as your service location is hard to identify.

Overall Drawbacks of Tor

  • Risk of getting abused due to anonymity.
  • Against the law in the eyes of many governments and Internet regulators.
  • Proliferation of a portal for many illegal activities and interests of questionable moral integrity.

Tor is evolving incrementally in the presence of free relay nodes and volunteer networks joining the Tor community. This will increase the capacity of the Tor network’s bandwidth. The roles of the individual, business and government are yet to be determined. Each needs to weigh the pros and cons of using Tor to decide their place in this new frontier.

Article written by Bip Khanal
Image credit by Getty Images, DigitalVision Vectors, simon2579
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