Saturday, July 6, 2013

Anonymous Internet

With a simple download you can surf the web without leaving a trace, according to developers of the TOR Project. 

I first heard about TOR on Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now program when Amy Goodman interviewed one of its developers, Jacob Applebaum, a computer guy involved in internet freedom activism who had been repeatedly stopped at airports and searched and had his computers confiscated and searched. I've seen TOR mentioned several more times now on sites that concern themselves with internet freedom.

TOR works by relaying your internet traffic through a number of different servers. It's already being used by corporations and the military, the TOR web site says.

When you send or receive information over the internet, the data is two things, the data itself (an email, a sound file, etc.) which is easily encrypted (some computers and browsers come with this capability) and the "header," or routing information, which is not encrypted. The header is what tells the web servers where you want to go on the internet (the web address) and where the computer you reach should send information back to, and includes a time stamp and the size of what's being sent.

It's this unencrypted data that the people who are watching you focus on, and allows them to track and profile you. The routing info contains your unique web address, of course, and by compiling information on where you send from, who you send to, when, the size of the message, etc., they can easily pinpoint your interests, your behavior patterns, who you are, even what you're sending, by using sophisticated mathematical analysis that analyzes not just you but every person or site you interact with. This routing info is also what corporations use to target you with ads. Google, Facebook, and many others collect this information and sell it, and as we have learned lately, willingly hand it over to spy agencies.

This kind of tracking is what TOR protects you from. By sending your internet traffic through relay points it makes it almost impossible to track you. They say "almost" because there are few TOR users at this point, but as its use increases the chances of being tracked will be virtually nil, they say.

You can use TOR with Windows or Mac, and with any browser, although the TOR download comes with its own browser, which is actually a Firefox browser with some added features, such as one that alerts you if you are at a web site that doesn't facilitate encryption.

I recall Appelbaum, in his Democracy Now interview, urging internet users to always use https:// when typing in a web address instead of www or http. In looking over the Tor web site I found out why. Https:// signals the web site you're visiting to use encryption if it has the capability. The TOR browser automatically takes this step for you and will warn you if the web site doesn't comply.

I can tell you from trying TOR that my internet speed is perhaps 20 percent slower, no doubt because of all the relaying. Otherwise everything is the same, and the TOR browser is fine with me since I already used Firefox. I've logged into Facebook and Yahoo and both made me go through the added steps of proving my identity before I signed in. Then they both sent me those automatically generated emails making sure it was OK that my account had been logged into from "an unidentified device" and "an unrecognized device," from Sweden and from Stockholm.

The browser also comes with its own search engine, so your searches won't be recorded and kept on file by Google or whoever.

And guess what? When I uploaded the screen shot I used here, which I took from the TOR homepage, before my computer actually uploaded the image to Blogger (Google) I got a warning from TOR saying that the web site the image was being uploaded to was trying to collect information from my computer along with the photo, via a "canvas," which I never heard of. It gave me the option of having them send them a blank canvas. I said sure! Be my guest.

I really like TOR.

Update II: I was just trying to reply to a comment on this web log and had trouble keeping signed in to the blog long enough. It keeps bringing up blogger.bubbmuntzer.ce and, which I assume are Google sites in other countries. It's that routing thing, I suppose.

Once I am past the main page and into where you fiddle around with your settings and see your stats and your list of posts, it's all normal. It's just that main, published page that's different.

As I surf around the web, and come upon different situations for the first time, occasionally it will give me a message telling me what is being done with my info and asking me if I want it to prevent it, and I have been clicking on yes. This happened when I was searching with it's search engine, StartPage.

Startpage also allows you to search for images using Google, but anonymously. It submits the request to Google for you, gets to results from Google and forwards them to you, all automatically. This slows things down some more itself.

I'm not sure now how much it actually slows down normal web surfing. The 20 percent I mentioned above may have been just a slowing down of my cable, because it's pretty quick right now for regular surfing. I live in a big apartment complex, where many peoples' feeds come off junction boxes located around the complex, and it can be a little slow itself sometimes.

Update III: It just gave me Strange.


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