ArsTechnica, “tor2web brings anonymous Tor sites to the “regular” web”

Posted in News Press at 15.12.2008

15/12/2008, ArsTechnica, “tor2web brings anonymous Tor sites to the “regular” web”

tor2web brings anonymous Tor sites to the “regular” web
The Tor project is known for allowing people to anonymously surf the Internet

by Jacqui Cheng – Dec 15 2008, 1:10pm WEST
Regular web users can now access anonymously-published websites that are masked by Tor’s hidden services thanks to a new tool called tor2web. The tool, created by former Reddit developer Aaron Swartz and WikiScanner creator Virgil Griffith, enables people to view these hidden websites (designated by the .onion domain suffix) without diving into Tor, which can be a pain for casual surfers. The creators hope that the existence of tor2web will encourage more organizations to publish content anonymously through Tor, now that such a heavy access restriction has been lifted.

The Tor project is most famous as a tool that allows Internet surfers to access websites privately and anonymously from within the “onion router.” Put simply, it works by passing your requests to another node that acts as a middleman between you and a website, which in turn passes the request onto other nodes, and so on. Every step is encrypted except for the final exit node to the content server connection, and the network is run almost entirely by volunteers.

The tool is often recommended by privacy advocates and rights groups when educating users about how to gain free access to information from countries that restrict or censor Internet access, such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. In fact, both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Citizen Lab have endorsed the use of Tor so that users can retain their online privacy while surfing, although the network has gotten somewhat of a bad rap for allegedly enabling the trafficking of child porn and anonymous bomb threats. (The project was previously funded by the EFF but has since broken off.)

Tor’s hidden services, however, allow web publishers to publish content anonymously so that law enforcement (and general snoopers) can’t detect where the information is coming from. As you can guess, this is useful largely for illegal content, such as P2P file servers and porn of variable levels of creepiness (during the writing of this article, I was lucky enough to come across a site dedicated to non-nude videos and stories of young girls with a “wetting” problem). However, Tor’s hidden services are also used by average—if not completely paranoid—Joes who want to keep the origins of their content a mystery. The only problem with publishing websites under Tor is that they can only be accessed from within Tor, meaning that the available audience at any given time is infinitesimally small compared to the overall Internet-using population. This is the problem that Swartz and Griffith hope to address with tor2web.

“There’s all sorts of stuff people want to publish anonymously,” Swartz told Threat Level. “The Tor tools have been really good for doing that. They’re really secure and have been well-vetted. But they’re kind of difficult to install and there’s no way you’re going to get everyone on the internet to install them. So the idea was to kind of produce this hybrid where people could publish stuff using Tor and make it so that anyone on the internet could view it.”

For now, tor2web’s services are not very useful aside from a casual click here and there from the services index page, as there are not many sites available through Tor’s hidden services in the first place. Most of them are also near impossible to decipher from their URLs, making casual surfing somewhat of a chore (though Swartz indicated that he and Griffin hope to create more user-friendly directories so that people can find interesting content easier). And, of course, it’s important to remember that as a regular, non-Tor-network-using Internet surfer, your visits to these sites are not protected as they would be if you were behind a node or three.

Still, tor2web is a positive step for those who want to publish anonymously without sacrificing the exposure of being available on the “regular” Internet. We just hope that more content makes it up soon, lest we be limited to reading about people’s weird fetishes and attempts to start new communist revolutions.

Read the original article here.