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How Tor Helps Both Dissidents and the Police 122

Posted by timothy
from the can-I-join-your-group-I-hate-the-romans dept.
Al writes "Technology Review has a in-depth article about the anonymous networking software Tor and how it is helping dissidents spread information in oppressive regimes such as Syria, Zimbabwe and Mauritania, and opening up the unfiltered web for users in many more countries. In China, for instance, the computers found in some web cafes are configured to use Tor automatically. Interestingly, some police agencies even use the software to hide their activity from suspects. As filtering becomes ever more common in democratic countries such as the US, perhaps Tor (and similar tools such as I2P), will become even more valuable."
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How Tor Helps Both Dissidents and the Police

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  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @03:26PM (#27692663) Homepage

    It cuts both ways.

    You can use a knife for cooking, mugging or for police action.

    But the more problematic criminals are also the ones that are most likely to be aware of this and be careful with what and who they trust.

    And the most careful persons in organized crime have sometimes only been relying on trusted messengers that have been doing all their communication. That to avoid wiretaps.

    • by Reorix (1184073) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @03:48PM (#27693019) Homepage
      Not only does it cut both ways, but it should. The thing about freedom is that 9 times out of 10 it only becomes clear that an action was that of a "freedom fighter" rather than a "terrorist" in hindsight. This is the reason for the high standards for prior restraint of the press.

      I'm not a fan of "sticking it to the man" in general, but when I hear about Tor and similar programs being used for "the wrong purposes" (whether that be organized crime, terrorism, etc), I feel better knowing that the software exists.

      The day when no secure methods exist for organized crime to communicate with each other is likely the day when one is guilty until proven innocent. The broad curtailing of freedoms should give us pause every time it comes up; that doesn't seem to necessarily be the case anymore.
      • by Moryath (553296) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @04:06PM (#27693307)

        Basic things to remember:

        #1 - You should never talk to the cops [youtube.com]. Seriously. This is not about your being a "bad citizen" or something else. It is because what you say to the cops can be used AGAINST you, but not FOR you. It is because while the cops have one job, the prosecutors' job is to get convictions, and the prosecutor is perfectly allowed to take some little snippet out of context, ask the cop "did he say that", and you have no recourse.

        #2 - Even the federal government can't tell you how many possible "federal crimes" exist on the books any more. And that's just at the federal level. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" is one tenet of our justice system which might as well read instead, "fuck the people", because there's no way in hell you could EVER know what the entire body of law (and accompanying precedents, "or in violation of some bullshit treaty the US signed that you didn't get to vote on" clauses, "or in violation of some 'regulation' that Congress didn't vote on but was instead put forth by some unelected government bureaucrats" clauses, etc) says even if you eat, breathed, slept, and shit the stuff for your entire lifetime.

        This doesn't mean you should go out of your way to ignore the law. And much of the law is pretty basic (don't park when there's a NO PARKING sign, don't be a dick while driving, etc). Still, you can NEVER be completely sure you're not breaking some law.

        • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @04:10PM (#27693371)
          It is impossible to rule innocent men.
          • by MrMista_B (891430)

            What? No, it's trivially easy to rule innocent men.

            Lock them up, and remove them from the population.

            Problem solved.

          • by Gerzel (240421) *

            Fake evidence.

            Make an activity which those men engage in illegal and they will not be innocent.

            Or just go the traditional "Do it or we'll stomp you!" route.

          • by Yvanhoe (564877)
            Unless he is suspected of terrorism.
        • by WaXHeLL (452463) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @04:20PM (#27693509)

          You should never talk to the cops ... "fuck the people" ... violation of some bullshit treaty the US signed ... shit the stuff ... ignore the law ... be a dick while driving

          It's a surprise that you posted that with an account, rather than AC. Now that you've been flagged as a deranged government-hating terrorist, there's plenty of evidence against you now.

          • Fortunately, he wasn't cautioned before making this statement of personal opinion, and therefore it can't be used against him in a criminal case.

            By the way, WTF does "shit the stuff" mean?
            • by wdef (1050680)
              I "shit the stuff" all the time after a good feed of Mexican with plenty of jalapenos. It's the stuff alright.
          • by wdef (1050680)
            Hey Mohammed Wa-eX-el, everyone on Slashdot is already flagged as a government-hating terrorist
        • by DCstewieG (824956) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @04:31PM (#27693675)

          don't be a dick while driving

          Unfortunately this isn't law.

          • Usually it is. Its often called "aggressive driving" - laws about it are rarely enforced because its a lot easier to write tickets for speeders that trigger a radar gun to beep above a certain threshold than it is to actively monitor driver behaviour.

            • by Moryath (553296)

              Also Known As/Peripherally Related To:

              - Driving too fast for conditions (supposed to override "speed limits" with a "sanity check" - for example, if the cop sees you doing 75 MPH but it's icy/snowy/rain-slick roads, he can charge you with this, but it's entirely subjective)
              - "Reckless Endangerment"
              - "Reckless Driving" (as opposed to Wreckless Driving, which we much prefer).
              - Failure to Yield Right-Of-Way
              - Following Too Close

        • do you mean if you witness a crime you shouldn't report it?

          please clarify your position, because "stop snitching" only guarantees your community is going to become a criminally infested hell, complete with brutal and corrupt police

          • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @04:48PM (#27693955)

            If you do choose to report it, be sure to report it in an anonymous manner. The reporter will be the first suspect, and the easiest mark for a conviction.

            • did your parents lock you in basement, and occasionally throw tablescraps down the stairs?

              what dystopian asocial reality do you think this advice serves?

              let's put it this way: say you are 100% correct in your assessment. then we agree that this reality is wrong, and needs to be corrected. then the question is, how do we correct it? and the answer is, citizens begin to hold the police accountable for their actions, so a regular and normal human sense of respnsibility and accountability can be upheld again

              in

              • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

                by Anonymous Coward

                It seems your reality doesn't co-exist with the parents', or mine. "Posturing upper middle class suburban poser"? Are there such people like that left in Amerika? I haven't seen many middle-class for a while.

                You might be surprised to find that feelings of oppression by law enforcement are common in people that aren't rich enough to drive a Lexus, or related to the local polital families. I've personally been on the receiving end of a police raid without a warrant, and held almost a week without charges bein

                • While I was driving old, junked out vehicles I got pulled over by police roughly 40 times over six years. No tickets. Are they just really active in my area?

                  Then, I got a new car. Have not been pulled over since.
          • ...because "stop snitching" only guarantees your community is going to become a criminally infested hell, complete with brutal and corrupt police

            Unless, of course, that brutal and corrupt police force employs equally corrupt "snitches" who fabricate evidence to be used against innocent men.

            Stopping this behaviour is the true objective of most of those who say "stop snitching". :)

        • by zolltron (863074)

          I watched the video, and it provides a compelling argument assuming that you're interested in only one thing: not going to jail. And while that is a pretty big thing that we all care about, we often usually care about other things as well.

          For instance, if I'm not a serial killer but the police think I am, I would certainly want to talk to the police even if doing so increased my risk of going to jail by a small percent chance because I have a larger interest in helping the police find the guilty party. An

          • by Tanktalus (794810)

            Honestly, you just need to take an intro to policing course from a friendly sociology department to get that the likelihood is all too high.

            (Yeah, yeah, I'm not providing any stats, either, but I don't think I could provide anything that'd convince you anyway, so I'm merely pointing to experts whom you might accept and inviting you to do your own research rather than believing some random nick on the internets.)

        • by Gerzel (240421) * <brollyferret&gmail,com> on Thursday April 23, 2009 @05:49PM (#27694785) Journal

          I believe "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" to be a just tenet but it must also have before it that "Absence of the law may be in some cases."

          In other words the government must put forward the laws of the land for free and make them available for the public otherwise the public is not being ignorant but instead the law is being absent.

          If I make a law and never tell the people whom will be governed by it then it is as just to enforce that law as if the law were never made.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Moryath (553296)

            And if ascertaining what the law says requires a full-time research staff just to answer SIMPLE questions?

            • This is why we need to pass a law requiring all citizens to keep a lawyer on retainer at all times. It's the only way to make certain that our rights are respected.

          • by Machtyn (759119)

            Prossor: But you did see the notice, didn't you?
            Arthur Dent: Oh, yes. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign outside the door saying "Beware of the Leopard." Ever thought of going into advertising?

        • by PureFiction (10256) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @07:17PM (#27695843)
          "... there's no way in hell you could EVER know what the entire body of law"

          This is where jury nullification comes in. But they don't like that much either!
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by wdef (1050680)

          "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" is one tenet of our justice system which might as well read instead, "fuck the people"

          Now that's quotable! The Law of Fuck the People has corollaries like:

          We can watch anything you do just in case it's bad.

          We can abduct you in the middle of the night without charge and hold for you as long as we feel like.

          We can't torture you legally here so we'll take you in secrecy to a jurisdiction where we can get away with it.

          No President will ever stand up for the Constitution and prosecute predecessors who allowed these things to happen.

          We (the Government) will never prosecute ourselves.

          We are

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by One Monkey (1364919)
            Interestingly this makes a relevant point about the nature of human society.

            If you imagine human society as performing a function that function is blanket growth and development. A good citizen is happy and/or quiet. A bad citizen is unhappy and/or not quiet.

            By "or not quiet" I mean to say that in order for society to measure its own success we apply statistical measures to features of our society to look for noise. Noise, in this case, meaning people whose metrics do not conform to the metrics of a hap
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      But the more problematic criminals are also the ones that are most likely to be aware of this and be careful with what and who they trust.

      I'd rather have problematic criminals than problematic government/corporate censorship, and anyway the two are never mutually exclusive. Government filtering the internet doesn't seem to be getting rid of all child porn. What's the point then of censorship if the stuff they mean to censor is still out there?

      • Censorship / prohibition never works, it just makes people work harder for what they want.

        Unless they start censoring the 24-hour shower-cam on Big Brother, the great unwashed couldn't give a hoot.
  • Dissidents? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by nurb432 (527695)

    Or Patriots? I thought only terrorists needed to hide their conversations?

  • "As filtering becomes ever more common in democratic countries such as the US, perhaps Tor (and similar tools such as I2P), will become even more valuable.""

    Ok, where and when in the US did filtering become 'common'??

    I'm hearing about it becoming common in other western countries...and am afraid it will happen here, but, I'm not aware of it being common here?

    • Well, it says "more" common, thus allowing for the possibilty of it being common, currently. But for one, there's the IWF's blacklist, ISPs shaping and throttling traffic is filtering by a slightly broader definition, schools block whatever content they feel like, etc etc.

      Agree or disagree with any of the preceeding examples, they're all examples of filtering.

    • "As filtering becomes ever more common in democratic countries such as the US, perhaps Tor (and similar tools such as I2P), will become even more valuable.""

      Ok, where and when in the US did filtering become 'common'??

      I'm hearing about it becoming common in other western countries...and am afraid it will happen here, but, I'm not aware of it being common here?

      Well, nobody claimed that it actually was common in the US, only that it was becoming ever more common. And it is.

      Most schools filter web access. Many libraries do as well. Some employers filter web access. Some ISPs are filtering/interfering with BitTorrent.

      And it seems like every other week there's a story on here about how somebody wants to pass a new law to protect the children by filtering something.

      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        "Most schools filter web access. Many libraries do as well. Some employers filter web access. "

        Well, that's different.

        When I read a headline like above, I'm thinking national filtering and control by the government, not by generally 'private' entities. Businesses internal and publically offered hotspots are free to serve or deny as they please, it is their network. Schools, while being generally a public funded entity, is a special case due to it housing children, and being responsible for what they view

      • Most schools filter web access.

        I have some bad news for you--kids in school give up a lot of their constitutional rights. This has been upheld in the supreme court--go ahead and try to sue because the teacher disciplined you for cursing, see how quickly that gets shut down.

        Additionally, Im not exactly sure if youre trying to present a chilling situation in which censorship was applied--dont you think that schools are one of the few places that that kind of censorship makes sense? Kids are there to learn, not browse the damn internet.

        • Most schools filter web access.

          I have some bad news for you--kids in school give up a lot of their constitutional rights. This has been upheld in the supreme court--go ahead and try to sue because the teacher disciplined you for cursing, see how quickly that gets shut down.

          Additionally, Im not exactly sure if youre trying to present a chilling situation in which censorship was applied--dont you think that schools are one of the few places that that kind of censorship makes sense? Kids are there to learn, not browse the damn internet.

          Nope. Actually I'm not terribly upset about the lack of constitutional rights in school, nor the filtering.

          They're kids. Before you turn 18 you don't have a whole lot of rights, regardless of whether you're in class or not. I've been surprised by some of the ridiculous news stories... Kids getting in trouble for putting things on their MyFaceSpaceBook... But I don't really expect them to have a whole lot of rights until they turn 18.

          And I doubt if many kids rely on their school's Internet to get their

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_packet_inspection#United_States [wikipedia.org]

      United States
      Main article: NSA warrantless surveillance controversy
      The NSA, with cooperation from AT&T has used Deep Packet Inspection technology to make internet traffic surveillance, sorting and forwarding more intelligent. The DPI is used to find which packets are carrying e-mail or a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone call.[16] Traffic associated with AT&T's Common Backbone was "split" between two fibers, dividing the signal

      • by blueg3 (192743)

        That is spying. You'll clearly see in the post you responded to and TFS the term "filtering", which requires that you also block access to particular content.

    • I don't think it's talking about the government filtering it, yet, but censorship, whether it's government or corporate, is still bullshit.

      • by Gerzel (240421) *

        Depends on the context.

        It isn't bullshit to block, as an example, myspace and other http traffic for say a POS computer because that computer is dedicated for a single use and should never be used for those sites.

        It isn't bullshit to block pornographic sites in a public school system.

        However it quickly becomes bullshit when the system uses a third party's blanket block list without checking at all on the third-parties ability to pick out such sites. Really what should be done in public school systems is t

    • iran, egypt, cuba, china: everything you do is spied upon. if you say something against the party or the religion, you are brutally punished

      western democracies: right wing politicians put forth timid legislation weakly attempting to curtail something everyone agrees is truly evil, like child pornography. opponents vociferously shout the retarded legislation down

      these are somehow equivalent scenarios in some people's minds. as if the mere existence of idiot social conservatives in western countries is equiva

      • by Gerzel (240421) *

        "timidly put forth" uhm...I don't think that first word means what you think it means both sides foam at the mouth.

        • i'm just sick (Score:3, Insightful)

          of idiots hyperfocused on western domestic "crimes" while the taliban takes over nuclear pakistan

          but of course, this is no reason to focus your criticisms outside the west, right? because what goes on in pakistan is after all totally the west's fault

          (smacks forehead)

          • by Gerzel (240421) *

            You do realize that the fact that the US tortures is the PRIMARY recruiting tool for Al Quada, and other anti-US terrorist organizations?

            Showing that the US does not condone torture would put a tremendous amount of hurt on their recruiting methods.

            Even if every case of US torture caused 1 plot to be uncoverd and stopped, which is not proven to be even close to the case; there is still the fact that those cases lead to hundreds upon hundreds of new recruits ready to help with more plots.

            Stop 1 start 2 or mor

            • a giant lake

              what would al qaeda and its sympathizers do? celebrate and become pastoral sheep farmers?

              no, they would go right on with their murderous agenda, because it is not centered on the usa. it is an agenda wholly of their own creation based on their own retarded interpretation of otherwise valuable and sacred texts, used to justify a fascist fanaticism not seen since nazi germany. is nazi germany chamberlain's fault? chamberlain certainly fucked up in his dealings with hitler, big time. and his share

      • admit some places have it a hell of whole lot worse off than western countries

        So as long as we're better than the worst, we should never complain. So the person with the worst behavior in the world has set the bar for all of humanity--no one can work to change any behavior as long as it's not the absolute worst.

        Looks like we have to work in serial, dealing with the one worst individual at a time, getting him to not be worst anymore then going to the next worst, until we get to everyone. What a GREAT PLAN!

    • by jhylkema (545853)

      "As filtering becomes ever more common in democratic countries such as the US, perhaps Tor (and similar tools such as I2P), will become even more valuable.""

      Ok, where and when in the US did filtering become 'common'??

      A better question is, when did the U.S. become a democratic country?

  • I'm starting to see less and less of a difference between the police and the criminals.
  • I would really like projects like Tor, and I2P to get more support. Even the United States has problems with net filtering and network shaping. The more the telcos and government try to regulate the internet, the more people will turn to projects like these. Like trying to firmly grasp water in your hands.
  • Great article but (Score:5, Interesting)

    by island_earth (468577) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @03:52PM (#27693101)

    I'd like to see a discussion of the legal ramifications of letting your system be used as a Tor relay. Suppose I volunteer some of my home network capacity to Tor.

    Putting aside the fact that it's probably a violation of my broadband provider's agreement to share my connection in this way, what if someone uses Tor for kiddie porn and happens to make the final connection to the police honeypot (so to speak) from my IP address?

    If anyone can point to a good discussion of this, it would be great. I'd like to let my system be a relay for Tor, but the risk seems large.

  • Newsflash (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @03:57PM (#27693177)

    Policemen eat food, and so do criminals! In a shocking discovery today we learned that a completely ambivalent object such as food could be used for good and for evil. Some fringe elements speculate that food in fact has no innate bias towards good or evil, and in fact does not exert any influence over the person that uses it apart from keeping them alive. But we all know that since it's rumored that TERRORISTS (tm) have been known to occasionally eat, food is obviously evil and should be banned. The fact that law enforcement officers have been spotted eating once in a while (especially in the vicinity of doughnut shops) should not allow us to forget about this lurking evil we call food. In fact, the world would be a better place if it were banned entirely.

    Warning! If you are sarcasm impaired, the above paragraph may cause you to become angry. Breathe slowly and try to relax. If you cannot relax after a few minutes, you might need professional help. Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but it is wit nonetheless.

  • I know Tor and many other services that make your traffic anonymous require more bandwidth then normal network traffic. I find it interesting because one of the really pushes for packet inspection is to reduce bandwidth consumption.
  • by ogrisel (1168023) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @04:04PM (#27693269)
    I always wondered whether it is not possible to attack TOR with statistical analysis provided you can dedicate significant resources to it. Suppose you are a big brother-style government agency with many computers and bandwith pipes dedicated to your goals. Could you not register a significant amounts of output and intermediate nodes (like say 10% of all nodes) that are specially improved to cooperatively log output HTTP traffic along with various web services session cookies, headers and originating IP addresses in a centralized DB and then use statistical analysis to identify the candidate source IP addresses of suspicious HTTP traffic?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Exit nodes can easily sniff everything you transmit across the unencrypted web. That's why you don't use it for anything requiring secrets.

      If you're worried about it, use the darknet:

      http://eqt5g4fuenphqinx.onion/

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ogrisel (1168023)
        So it is actually dangerous to market TOR to non tech savy people who do not systematically check that they are surfing only on https websites or orther encrypted protocols. I guess you can harvest a great amount of passwords and other sensitive data by sniffing the http traffic of a single exit node.
        • by rrohbeck (944847) on Thursday April 23, 2009 @04:38PM (#27693803)

          Yup. It's been done (google "Dan Egerstad") and you can be pretty sure it's being done.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Correct. The exit nodes doing this are opening themselves up to legal liability. But that means nothing in practice.

          They can sniff passwords and other private information from people who don't really understand how Tor works.

          Law enforcement agencies can monitor for fools who are doing illegal communications and leak identifying clues in their messages.

          Tor is great, but it's not magic. You are still using a proxy. Even though the intermediaries cannot see, the final server has to.

          Website providers that care

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by srollyson (1184197)

      Yes, this is a weakness. Hopefully multiple alphabet soup agencies from different countries will get this idea and end up competing with each other. An arms race of diminishing returns to get a bigger chunk of the Tor network just means we'll have plenty of free Tor bandwidth on the gov't dime.

      Protip: You can edit the Tor config or source code to pick geographically diverse nodes yourself.

    • I always wondered whether it is not possible to attack TOR with statistical analysis provided you can dedicate significant resources to it.

      Yes, it can be. And with far fewer nodes than you think [colorado.edu].

  • how it is helping dissidents spread information in oppressive regimes such as Syria, Zimbabwe, Mauritania,

    And California.

  • Democratic... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Thursday April 23, 2009 @05:04PM (#27694199)

    As filtering becomes ever more common in democratic countries such as the US [...]

    I'm wondering for a long time, if you really still can call the US and many other (eg European) states "democratic".

    I mean, has the choice between two variants of the same shit still the right to call itself this?

    I'm very lucky, that things like Tor, and research around it, still exist. It might soon be our only chance of freeing ourselves from a regime of total control.

  • by Presto Vivace (882157) <marshall@prestovivace.biz> on Thursday April 23, 2009 @05:54PM (#27694843) Homepage Journal
    I have thought for some time that privacy is the next killer app. The person who solves the privacy problem will make a stack of money.
  • When you're a small company, you have limited resources. You can't easily build a vast network to come from different IPs every other second so a "smart" infector doesn't give you another sample to play with when you already came a moment ago.

    TOR solves this by offering you a new IP every couple seconds. As a neat side effect, it means that anyone coming through that same TOR exit node won't be infected because the infector thinks its deed has already been done.

    When you're talking with people, it's sometime

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