Tor has long been embraced by web privacy advocates as a solution for browsing the Internet mostly anonymously in an era when this has become increasingly difficult to do. While Tor isn’t perfect at hiding the identity of its user from certain methods of detection such as end-to-end correlation, its system, which consists of software that allows people to bounce around from node to node through a directory server (this set of graphics explains it in more detail), is pretty good at obfuscating the identity of a given web user, provided she is smart about turning off cookies and the like.
At present, setting up Tor is a somewhat involved process in that it requires installing software and syncing it up with one’s web browser to ensure that it’s doing its job. (Tor does offer some self-contained browser bundles for download which make the process a little easier.) But according to a recent Technology Review article, there’s a project in the works which could broaden Tor’s user base and improve the network’s performance: Developing wireless routers with Tor installed, “mak[ing] anonymity something that can happen everywhere, all the time,” in the words of Tor project developer Jacob Appelbaum.
Appelbaum says volunteers are already testing a small number of modified routers with Tor installed. The prototypes were made by installing new software onto a popular low-cost wireless router made by Buffalo Technology. The software was developed by Appelbaum and colleagues at Tor and is based on the work of the OpenWrt project, which offers open source code for networking equipment. The finished routers can be configured to pass all traffic through Tor, or only some kinds of communications. “You might want to run your VOIP device through Tor but not your other traffic,” Appelbaum explains. They will also be capable of simultaneously offering Tor-protected and conventional wireless networks.
But these routers won’t just help their owners connect to the Internet, they’ll help other Tor users maintain anonymity by adding relays to obscure user IP addresses, and if enough are installed, they could potentially help speed up the entire network:
Generally, the [anonymizing] process results in lag and restricts bandwidth, which deters some people from using Tor, says Chris Palmer, technology director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The primary way to address that problem is to have more Tor relays in more places, connected to high-bandwidth, low-latency lines,” he explains. “Wireless routers may fit the bill well, if they can be built with the computational resources necessary to run a Tor relay of decent capacity.”
I wouldn’t count on Tor ‘going mainstream’ even if routers broaden its base and make it more secure: Many people would be uncomfortable running a Tor relay given what other Tor users could potentially do with it, and while the Tor Project says that most Tor users use the network legitimately and that there haven’t been any court cases directly involving Tor technology, it says that it “cannot guarantee that you will never face any legal liability as a result of running a Tor relay.” Still, for existing and potential Tor users, this could be a better and more comprehensive solution than Tor as browser software.
(via Technology Review)