It’s estimated that 15.000 people access shady websites on a daily basis via Tor, and that’s only in the UK. While most people claim to use Tor because they wish to stay anonymous, others exploit the layers of proxies to find drugs and child pornography.
The Onion Router has been developed by the US Navy (back in 2002) in order to keep government communications safe from prying eyes. It’s estimated that Tor had reached approximately 600.000 users a year (between 2011 and 2012), with a little over 15.000 daily users in the UK. The way Tor works is pretty simple to understand – instead of using one proxy to keep the true IP addresses hidden, Tor uses a whole chain of proxies, hence its name.
“Ten years ago, no one had this concept of privacy. But with the [former General David] Petraeus scandal and cellphones recording your location, now this doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore,” Andrew Lewman – Tor’s executive director – explained to The Washington Post.
While TOR claims to be “used every day for a wide variety of purposes by the military, journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, and many others”, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP) warns that out of the 15.000 British citizens that use it, 5.000 are suspected of conducting a wide range of illegal activities.
A 30-year-old man who wishes to remain anonymous said he had started using Tor just a few months ago to buy drugs from a website called Silk Road.
“You sign up like any other site: username, password, etc, and that’s it, you’re there,” he said.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: every drug under the sun listed, from all over the world. It seemed unreal. Pictures, ratings, candid reviews about people’s experiences with them,” he continued.
After spending his Bitcoins, the package arrived.
“…a few days later a letter arrives from Holland, flat-packed with a birthday card within it and a vacuum-packed plastic bag of coke,” he confessed.
“The same thing happened with the hash, I couldn’t believe it. Drugs had been delivered to my door by Royal Mail. Madness,” the man said.
Is Tor to be blacklisted by governments from around the world? Prime Minister David Cameron believes that websites and search engines should take responsibility for what they offer, especially when it comes to child pornography.
“I am sickened by the proliferation of child pornography. It pollutes the internet, twists minds and is quite simply a danger to children,” he said last Sunday.
“Internet companies and search engines make their living by trawling and categorising the web. So I call on them to use their extraordinary technical abilities to do more to root out these disgusting images. That is why the Government is convening a round-table of the major internet companies, and demanding that more is done.”
The backside of the problem, however, is privacy – an overgrowing concern in the past few years. A computer security consultant said that…
“Following Government collusion with record companies and copyright holders to crack down on file-sharing copyrighted material, users were led to using networks like Tor previously only used by computer geeks and people seeking out illicit material. Same thing applies here, more so. The people who are targeted by this type of legislation will spend hours and go to every effort to seek out material.”
“These are innocent family people who are not guilty of anything. They use Tor because they don’t want themselves or family followed around by councils or the police,” a British blogger, who’s also using Tor, wrote.
While we agree that the issues at hand are not to be ignored, the whole thing could easily get out of hand, just as it happened with peer-to-peer technology.