How to peel an onion
For all of us overwhelmed by haute cuisine (that’s french for I can cook better than you), I’ll start with a series of posts on how to peel an onion. Knowing how to peel an onion is so important, so fundamental, that even the feds are doing it. Go ahead, read the linked article, it’s well worth it.
Pots and pans aside, Tor was cracked. And the reason it’s news it’s because Tor was though as a sort of haven where anything goes from drug trafficking to child abuse. Nothing further from the truth. As we are used by now, when the press in their infinite wisdom talks about a crime involving technology, they don’t bother to separate the tool from the usage.
Technically speaking, Tor is a router network comprised of volunteers all over the world. Yeah like the mighty Internet, but in this case it’s much smaller and its inner workings are different. In Tor, when a user sends a request (note that this might be any request, not just HTTP requests), the request is encrypted and re-encrypted ad nauseum. Then it is forwarded to a series of (randomly chosen) routers, which decrypts one layer of the encryption and forwards it to the next one. Like an onion! With Tor you can communicate over an insecure network (Internet) privately, with a guarantee that you’ll have privacy and freedom to conduct private matters. In fact, it works so well that shady persons decided to use it for questionable endeavours.
Have you ever been to the so called deep Web? I have. And it’s easy to see why the general public might frown at the idea of something like the deep Web merely existing, and our beloved government doing nothing to prevent it. Why hasn’t it been legislated out of existence? Thanks to the way the Internet is built, that’s not an easy task to do.
The way the Internet works, all the intelligence is not at the core of the network, but at the periphery. The fact that 80% is porn and 19.9% are pictures of cats is a testament to the intelligence of what’s found at the periphery of the network. This dumbness (or rather, the intelligence of the periphery) allows anyone with mad skillz to come up with new uses of the network. Take Bittorrent for instance, it creates an overlay on top of the Internet so large files can be transmitted between multiple peers and whatnot. The same can be said of Tor, it creates a so called dark overlay, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Eoin Marques realised the same and decided to launch Freedom Hosting: a hosting provider with a no strings attached policy. A number of hidden services sprout from Freedom Hosting, some illegal (like selling illegal drugs) and some legit (like Tormail anonymized email service). Freedom Hosting is now infamous for facilitating child pornography and the connection between Freedom Hosting, the Tor Project and child pornography may be hard to undo in people’s minds.