Headlines are declaring what some see as the makings of another chapter in the National Security Agency scandal. The NSA may have worked to break into the Tor anonymity network.
James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, published a statement saying the intelligence community seeks to understand how these tools work and the kind of information being concealed.
"In the modern telecommunications era, our adversaries have the ability to hide their messages and discussions among those of innocent people around the world," Clapper said. "They use the very same social networking sites, encryption tools and other security features that protect our daily online activities."
Tor's Good and Bad Uses
We turned to John Shier, a systems engineer at Sophos, to get his thoughts on the headline. He told us Tor relies on your data packets being randomly and anonymously routed through several nodes on the Internet. At its most basic, Tor is made up of an entry node, a relay node and an exit node. Each node is only aware of the next hop in the chain. That safeguards the original sender information.
"Tor is a useful tool for anyone looking to increase their privacy online, much like always paying in cash and turning off GPS or location tracking in your mobile phone -- or ditching the phone altogether -- to name a couple of physical world tactics," Shier said. "Tor is also no different than any other openly available service or tool. It can be used for good and bad, like SEO."
As Shier sees it, the fact that the NSA -- and its many collaborators -- would be interested in such a service should come as no shock. Not only do well-intentioned people, such as privacy advocates and researchers, use Tor but so can copyright thieves, activists, dissidents, reformists, cyber-criminals, terrorists, and the like. Not all of the latter are bad but may attract the attention of law enforcement nonetheless.
Where's the Focus?
Shier concluded that the issue with Tor is the same as with some of the other NSA revelations that have recently come to light: To what degree is the agency limiting its focus on "legitimate" targets? How widely is the net being cast and what assurance do private, law-abiding citizens have that they're not being unjustly and/or illegally monitored?
"Another concern is the alleged use of malware to aid surveillance. We have already seen how zero-day exploits can and will be used by the criminal element to spawn new families of malware, such as Stuxnet, Duqu or Flame," Shier said. (continued...)
Posted: 2013-10-14 @ 2:17pm PT
Tools like Tor are being used more because it's depressing to realize Big Brother is really watching. No online data is secure nowhere no how. If you keep it in your home, they still need a warrant to get to it. So far, the best way to keep your stuff safe from prying eyes is to get a private cloud, like a Cloudlocker (www.stoamigo.com) that works like a regular cloud service but stays at home. Look for more inventions like this to help protect us from the people supposed to protect us.
Posted: 2013-10-08 @ 12:06pm PT
The dystopian fantasies of yesteryear are now a reality. We’ve allowed the coming of an age where the civil liberties our forefathers fought so hard for are being eroded by the day. Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are mere ghostly images of their original intent. We’ve woken up to an Orwellian Society of Fear where anyone is at the mercy of being labeled a terrorist for standing up for rights we took for granted just over a decade ago. Read about how we’re waging war against ourselves at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/living-in-society-of-fear-ten-years.html
Robert J Monette:
Posted: 2013-10-08 @ 9:37am PT
Americans should live in FEAR at the thought of government only having a right to privacy. How much greater should our concern be when government demands complete TRUST, but NO RIGHT TO PRIVACY FOR THE PEOPLE?