What’s Tor?

Tor is short for The Onion Router, which is a special network that provides users with anonymity. There is an available browser, called the Tor Browser, which ensures access to this network. Simply put, it enables you to surf the web anonymously, gain access to blocked websites and visit websites which end in .onion. These websites are not accessible through a regular browser.

The service is being used by people who are concerned with protecting their own privacy and by dissidents in countries such as China, which has many blocked websites. The browser has become hugely popular of late, due to the many reports on governments spying on their residents. After whistle blower Edward Snowden came forward with his revelations,  the number of Tor-users has grown exponentially.

The American secret service (NSA) is keeping a close eye on its users, and the Russian government has offered 85000 euro’s to researchers who succeed in gaining access to their data. The NSA has tried to crack Tor, but hasn’t succeeded so far.

Who developed Tor?

Tor’s original technology was developed with aid from the American navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 2002 the first version of Tor was launched, which was mainly used to hide data for its users and to protect them from large companies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organisation which rallies for freedom on the internet has backed the project financially.

The current Tor network is being funded by The Tor Project, a non-profit organisation, which has a few members of paid staff and a lot of volunteers. These volunteers work at developing Tor’s software and providing servers for using the Tor network.

What does Tor do?

Tor is mainly being used to surf the net anonymously. Its users can hide their real IP address, which means websites are unable to comprise a profile of them through cookies. These cookies are being linked to a different IP address than the one on your computer.

Tor is also being used to enter websites which normally store a user’s IP address, making it impossible to trace the user. If for instance, you log on to Twitter, your IP address will be stored. But when you do so through a Tor server, another one will be stored, thereby making it impossible to link it to your original IP address.

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Anonymous surfing is hugely appealing to journalists, lawyers and detectives, who want to remain anonymous at all times. Tor is also popular in countries where websites are being blocked and where dissidents are being prosecuted, such as in China, Russia or Syria. By using Tor they manage to sidestep their government’s firewalls and to use several other services anonymously.

Apart from anonymous surfing on the net, Tor also has its own network with websites that end in ‘.onion’. Theses websites, which are not being indexed by search engines and are not accessible through a regular browser are called the ‘deep web’.