For whatever reason, usage of the online anonymity software and network Tor has spiked in recent months, climbing 75 percent in the US since Edward Snowden lifted the lid on the NSA’s PRISM data-mining program. According to RT.com:
The Tor Project reported that the number of people subscribed to its service [worldwide] has doubled since June, when former National Security agency contractor, Edward Snowden, revealed that United States intelligence analysts were secretly tracking global internet activity. Short for “The Onion Project,” which implies of layers anonymity, Tor conceals a computer’s location and relays an individual’s messages, search queries, and other functions through a series of encryptions.
The story goes on to give all of the usual caveats about Tor: it’s just a tool, it isn’t foolproof, it merely provides layers of anonymization for web browsing. And if you log into any of the websites you log into with a regular web connection, you’ve defeated the entire purpose of Tor. It does also reveal one interesting tidbit of info that I wasn’t aware of (despite the fact that it’s public knowledge):
Tor has previously admitted that the US Department of Defense was one of its principal financial backers, with some estimating that as much as 86 percent of Tor’s 2010 budget came from the Defense Department.
At any rate, the irony of all of this is that citizens of the U.S. who use Tor are more likely to be targeted by the NSA. From Ars Technica:
[A] person whose physical location is unknown—which more often than not is the case when someone uses anonymity software from the Tor Project—”will not be treated as a United States person, unless such person can be positively identified as such, or the nature or circumstances of the person’s communications give rise to a reasonable belief that such person is a United States person,” the secret document stated.
And in the event that an intercepted communication is later deemed to be from a US person, the requirement to promptly destroy the material may be suspended in a variety of circumstances. Among the exceptions are “communications that are enciphered or reasonably believed to contain secret meaning, and sufficient duration may consist of any period of time during which encrypted material is subject to, or of use in, cryptanalysis.”
The bottom line here is that until We the People stand up and demand that the government actually abide by the Constitution (specifically the Fourth Amendment in this case), if the government wants to get you, the government is going to get you. As a recent malware attack on Tor — mostly likely perpetrated by the FBI — demonstrates, no amount of anonymization can save you from Big Brother.
Read [RT: Tor anonymity network membership has doubled since NSA leak], [Ars Technica: Use of Tor and e-mail crypto could increase chances that NSA keeps your data] and [Wired: Feds Are Suspects in New Malware That Attacks Tor Anonymity].