The National Security Agency (aka NSA or No Such Agency) sought to unmask users of Net-privacy tool Tor, according to a recent report in the Guardian newspaper.
“The latest secret documents provided by Edward Snowden and published by the Guardian show that National Security Agency has been trying to break through online anonymity provided by The Onion Router (Tor) a popular Internet security and anonymizing tool.“
The article is called NSA and GCHQ target Tor network that protects anonymity of web users.
According to the Guardian, the NSA (and indirectly GCHQ of the UK) has not been able to crack Tor outright according to internal NSA documents which also “suggest that the fundamental security of the Tor service remains intact.”
The documents also state that “We (the NSA) will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time…and says the agency has had no success de-anonymizing a user in response to a specific request.”
Another top-secret NSA presentation calls Tor “the king of high-secure, low-latency internet anonymity.”
An article on Barrakam called Secure Web Browsing describes Tor and what makes it work.
Tor software “protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network…it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.”
Tor receives around 60% of its funding from the US government, which includes the NSA. The US government helped fund the Tor project to allegedly help dissidents, journalists, and NGO’s in “bad” countries like China or Iran (now, unfortunately, the USA and the UK). Because the NSA says that drug dealers and terrorists might use Tor (what a surprise), they are on the attack against this security tool.
It seems that Tor has frustrated not only the attempts by the NSA but that China and Iran have expended a lot of labor trying to block Tor in their countries without success. This was one of the original reasons for US government funding.
One example of NSA targeting is Jacob Appelbaum, a founding member of the Tor project. Applebaum says Tor is “software that helps people regain and reclaim their autonomy. It runs, it is open and it is supported by a large community spread across all walks of life.” Because of his beliefs and his work at making the Internet anonymous and secure, Appelbaum has been detained at the US border 12 times. Applebaum’s computer has been confiscated and he is the target of US agencies who have yet to prove he has committed a crime, yet they continue to dog his steps everywhere he goes.
In 2012, the NSA attempted to attack Tor users through a known hole in the customised Firefox web browser which is bundled with the Tor software. That vulnerability was fixed and the NSA is no longer able to exploit this hole.
For this reason, do you need any more good reasons for not keeping security software up to date? Security updates are like having an anti-burglary squad coming around daily or weekly and rattling doors and windows on your business or house to keep predators out. Think of security updates as keeping you out of short reach of big brother and the MPAA.
Roger Dingledine, the president of the Tor project, said “Just using Tor isn’t enough to keep you safe in all cases. These attacks make it clear that we…need to keep working on better security for browsers and other internet-facing applications.”
You, the software user, are nearly always the weak link in Internet security. Never run a computer connected to the Internet without a long password, always run your computer as a single user and never as an administrator unless you are a server specialist. Never click on unknown links on a web site or download and open unknown software. For more, see Secure Web Browsing.
Safe computing is at least as important as safe sex. You can be the cause of a tremendous amount of damage to include the spreading of computer viruses and other malicious software. When you connect to the Internet, remember “with great power comes great responsibility.“