What exactly is the Tor network? Tor enables citizens to bypass government censorship and allows dissidents to communicate anonymously. How does it work? The Tor network is a collection of servers located across the world, run mostly by volunteers. The network helps users connect to the Internet anonymously by sending traffic between at least three Tor servers before allowing it to reach its destination. This makes it nearly impossible for anyone monitoring the Internet to understand where the traffic is coming from and where it is going. Tor “exit nodes” are the final set of servers used in the connection process. This is where a user’s traffic exits the Tor network and connects to the world wide web.
The Tor network facilitates special sites that allow website owners and their users to remain anonymous through “hidden services.” Hidden services have been used by criminals for nefarious activities like selling drugs, but the Tor community estimates that this accounts for less than 4% of this type of user traffic. Bloggers use hidden services to blog anonymously and safely. Human rights defenders share information with media by using leaking platforms in this realm. The Washington Post uses one, as do many human rights groups.
To better understand the tool, its uses, and its controversies, Global Voices’ Iran editor Mahsa Alimardani talks in the video below with Iranian Tor developer Nima Fatemi and Tor’s Director of Communications, activist Kate Krauss. Above, watch a neat video tutorial on Tor created by Nima.