Anonymous internet browsing is a dream for many but unfortunately, is unreachable. Regardless of the technologies you use, if you’re connected to the internet, with enough effort, it is still possible to trace you. Nonetheless, by using certain tools, you can make it so difficult that most won’t even bother to attempt snooping on your browsing data. One such tool is the Tor network.
The Tor network was created and is run by the Tor project, a non-profit organization that conducts research and development into online privacy and anonymity. The network is designed to stop advertisers, governmental organizations and large corporations from tracing your location or tracking your browsing habits. It does so by bouncing the users’ traffic through relays run by thousands of volunteers around the world. This makes it incredibly hard for anyone to identify the source of the information or the location from which it has been sent.
There are however, some trade-offs to the anonymity you get from using the Tor network. Considering that the traffic is being routed through a minimum of three relays spread around the world, the browsing experience is considerably slower when using Tor. Certain plugins such as Flash and QuickTime could also be blocked due to these relays.
Tor can be used by many people and for many purposes. There are plenty of regular internet users that decide to use Tor to keep their internet activities private from websites and advertisers. It can also be used as a layer of protection from cyber spying and to circumvent censorship in certain parts of the world.
Since it was originally developed in cooperation with the United States Naval Research Laboratory, it is still widely used by military professionals to keep their communications anonymous. Activists and journalists in countries which contain strict censorship of media and the internet are also advised to use the Tor network.
Recently, Tor users have been gaining attention from the NSA. There were a series of online attacks carried out which allowed the agency to successfully identify several Tor users. These attacks included targeting security holes in the Firefox web browser. Tor encourages users of its Tor Browser Bundle to upgrade to the latest version regularly, to ensure they have the latest security fixes for the software. These cases, however are just the exception, not the rule.
"We will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time," said "Tor Stinks", an NSA presentation from June 2012. "With manual analysis we can de-anonymize a very small fraction of Tor users, however, no success de-anonymizing a user ... on demand."
The president of the Tor project stated that there is no indication of the possibility to break the Tor protocol or perform traffic analysis on the Tor network. Although using the Tor network is definitely going to get the attention of governmental agencies, unless there are some serious suspicions about your internet browsing, there is no way they will try to go to such extremes in order to find out your real identity.
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