A report delivered by the UK Parliament deems the banning of anonymity platforms like Tor an unacceptable option. The paper, called “The dark net and online anonymity”, was published by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. It stated both the inappropriateness and the technical difficulty of battling anonymity networks.
This decision comes as a surprise after British Prime Minister David’s Cameron’s anti-anonymity statements a couple of months ago, which seemed to indicate that the Conservative Party had the intention of supporting the banning of encrypted messages in the UK.
Tor is a project originally developed for the US Navy to protect government communications, but it is currently used by private individuals, journalists, activist groups, and anyone interested in safeguarding the privacy of their data. A web of virtual tunnels which functions on the same principle as torrents, Tor creates circuits of encrypted connections through the network nodes, randomly choosing a pathway to deliver the encrypted message, unlike normally encrypted sites that send the encrypted message directly to the addressee. Practically, the message is not only hidden through encryption, but also hidden among all the messages by other users that traverse the same network nodes.
Although it is not perfectly traffic-analysis-proof (the sender of a message can eventually be discovered if he is traced through statistical analysis, supposing that the attacker tracing him can observe the internet traffic at both ends, the source and the receiving computer), Tor can guarantee a better protection of personal data than most internet sites.
The downside, claim the counter-anonymity advocates, is that sites like Tor can become a harbor for criminal activity, particularly for black markets such as Silk Road or for child pornography. But the parliamentary report issued today proved, with data from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command of the UK Crime Agency, that Tor Hidden Services didn’t have a major role in the online distribution of child indecent exposure images. The Internet Watch Foundation identified and cancelled 36 Tor Hidden Services sites containing pornographic material with minors, compared to 1,624 other domains on the internet. The report of the UK legislative body supports the solution of working with sites like Tor in order to prevent criminal activity going on through their network, rather than banning them altogether (which would encourage the creation of more hostile platforms).
Anonymity networks are not widely used because of the slow download rate, but rising suspicions of surveillance are triggering users’ increasing orientation towards sites like Tor. Free software builder Mozilla has announced a common project with Tor, aiming to incorporate the anonymity platform into their browser.
image source: canada.com