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One of the greatest threats I can see to the anonymity of the Tor network and its users, is NSA/GCHQ (etc.)-operated Tor nodes.

No matter how state-of-the-art 'good practice' a Tor user adheres to - in not mixing modes of anonymity, keeping fingerprinting and trackability to a minimum, and using encryption to a maximum - if the NSA has enough nodes under their belt, then they can (some of the time), piece together the dots of the anonymity network and de-anonymize communications taking place in it.

The obvious best thing to fight such NSA compromise of the Tor network, is to use 'people power' (there are more of us than in the NSA), to create as many of our own non-NSA relays (even if on small pipes and not always having 24/7 up-time), and hold as much of our own stake in the network, as possible.

What can one do apart from already hosting a relay yourself?

Is there a foundation to which one can donate (or even partner on charity events) which then sets up Tor community-controlled nodes to expand the network outside of NS control?

What activism, evangelism, or community-building could one do, or join?

(This would be activism/evangelism specifically for more non-NSA nodes being hosted mind you, not so much more Tor users, even though that would be of great benefit to Tor anonimity and potentially indirect benefit to more relays being set up anyway.)

Further to this, is there some big decision that the Tor Project could make that automatically increases the amount of community-hosted relays (thus everyone outside of NSA's anonymity) - such as making all Tor users contribute a bit of (p2p-style) middle node bandwidth to the network whenever they're connected, which might be in such a way that the user's browsing isn't even slowed down?

Perhaps this final idea is one of the best we could do to truly combat NSA Tor network takeover: a vast increase in Tor Browser instances of end users hosting the middle node infrastructure, where there's by virtue of the size of the very Tor user base, more control of it by the community, than by malicious sniffing adversaries such as the NSA.

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  • This is a related question: tor.stackexchange.com/questions/4858/…
    – Roya
    Jan 9, 2015 at 5:46
  • Are you sure? I think you posted wrong link (that's about number of circuit hops)? Anyway if it's the two or three ones with 7 or more votes above that I'd expect someone to point out, I know about them and they were helpful reading, but this is a bit more specific and pointed to really doing something about: increasing middle nodes on the network (and exit nodes for the capable, but more middle).
    – user1006
    Jan 9, 2015 at 5:50
  • Dear foregon, the link is correct: tor.stackexchange.com/questions/4858/… If you would please read the question and express your opinion. I appreiciate the time and effort you put on this in advance. Warm Regards,
    – Roya
    Jan 9, 2015 at 8:49
  • You'll have to be clearer Roya, as I already read that question (and the answers) a couple of days ago actually, and learned useful things from it - still don't know what you mean by linking to it!
    – user1006
    Jan 9, 2015 at 11:55
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    Wow, interesting info, once you read it (now) and comments, sure it does relate to this question!...it's about middle node security and anonymity rubustness. Only makes this question all the more important, I guess.
    – user1006
    Jan 9, 2015 at 20:56

2 Answers 2

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I think it is important to continue to spread the word. I can see my peers opening up to Tor after they understand it is not 'just for criminals' but serves a greater purpose for everyone.

My way of helping is to run my own relay, even though my bandwidth is not very high, and to use it as my own entry point. I believe this helps my browsing be more secure.

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First we need to have a whole picture of who and how use Tor and who and how can be against this. Because agencies are still control network so just having community exit nodes might be not enough.

Tor may be used by criminals but here we have nuances. For example someone wants to buy cannabis and they aren't really dangerous criminals. But drug sellers may be really dangerous people. And they may also sell heroin or weapons. But those people will host their website on some paid server somewhere on Caribbeans and probably they anyway have a clearnet version. But from what I see they just creating chats and drug users somehow know how to find them. So as far I understood the Tor is not actively used for this.

Real hackers also doesn't use Tor for attacks and similarly they have own botnets. So probably most usage is just to bypass blocking of adult websites, paranoiacs, business peoples who trying keep a commercial secrets and discussions, and just regular people who use it to bypass CGNAT and get an access to their computer or router.

Most regular people just use VPN and they don't really looking for anonymity but just to unblock access. Using the Tor for them doesn't really work because it's slow and not convenient because you need to install some additional app. In this regard the Brave browser the only who built-in the Tor support. Why even Firefox still didn't it puzzling me. So IMHO today a good UX and simple tools for end users are more important than more exit nodes. The speed of Tor network today is impressively good. You can just create an article install Tor VPN and many people who are looking for a VPN may start using the Tor even without understanding what it is.

But it's really annoying to browse internet because you will be blocked or asked for a captcha on many websites. This also needs to be solved somehow. Maybe we can just push website owners to not block Tor but be more smart instead. It's nearly to impossible to make a DDoS attack over Tor but a website anyway needs to track suspicious user activity and it's reputation. Given how many users today are using VPNs the blocking of Tor exit nodes makes little sense.

Exit nodes have to be runned ether by someone who doesn't care about possible legal issues (1) or by an organization that is ready for that (2).

In case of 1 individual this can be a "white hacker" (not really) who got an access to someones computer/router, or bough a hosting with a stolen credit card or even created a malware. E.g. in this case he doesn't care about consequences.

In case of 2 an organization that may be some hacker space/club or university, journalists association or a political party most likely Pirate party, Libertarian, Anti-capitalists or any opposition.

Speaking about increasing relays I think we may have some solutions. The Tor needs to be made as lightweight library and built in into many products. For example into routers that many people have always online and some potion of them would be nice to make a Tor relay there if it won't consume all the bandwidth.

I already asked about this in dev-list:

As a side question: is it possible to make a small relay proxy that can work part time when I sleep? Imagine that each router already has a Tor. This is potentially thousands of relay nodes and all of them have a motivation to support the network which they are using themselves.

But users don’t want to lose bandwidth. I see that I can set some traffic or bandwidth limits. But maybe I can write some script that will enable or disable the relay by schedule in the evening. As far I know relays must be always online so this will make the relay unstable and it won’t be used by Tor. Is it technically possible?

It's a cool idea, but it's not something we support with our current design. To deliver good performance to users, we need relays to have good, fast, reliable connections. Having a relay that drops off the network once a day, or that changes its capabilities too frequently, doesn't really work so well (as I understand it). This is an area where others understand the design space better, though, so maybe somebody will figure something out.

So we need to solve a difficult technical things in order to achieve this. But even today it would be possible to make the Tor installed by default in OpenWrt or even Ubuntu and ask a user to turn a relay during installation. This kind of advertisement can give more nodes without any problems. Many users already know about the Tor but they just not thought to run their own relay.

Last but not least: we can go further and make all users as relays by default. Similarly to Torrent when users downloading a file many of them even don't realize that they become seeders.

Basically including Tor into a Crypto wallets or Torrent clients may be a good composition and may be appreciated by users. For example WebTorrent is a successful project that used WebRTC to share files directly with browsers and this similar to Tor Snowflake project.

In the similar way previously worked Skype and there was p2p Super Nodes and regular users might become a relay. Chat applications is a good place were the Tor can be used.

There was a p2p VPN that was popular but they simply didn't tell users that they become an exit nodes and it was closed. See Mental Outlaw: 911 Residential Proxy about their story. The fact that they worked for so long really wonders. This not something that the Tor should follow but anyway it shows that basically most users didn't really bothered that they were an exit node and everything was mostly fine. If they were just a relay this will never even discussed.

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    I'm making this "router relays" in my project and helping people to build their own nodes, and trust me - technically it's a full-time relays available right now, just set it up right. And this paradigm applies not to just Tor as a decentralized network
    – Alexey Vesnin
    Oct 21, 2023 at 12:34

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