Tech at Night: Why ISPs should be wary of Tor
The Onion Router, more commonly known as just Tor, is a cryptographic network of computers that seeks to provide anonymity to its users. Users connect to a Tor “entry node,” and tell it what Internet sites they want to access. That request is then passed through a series of encrypted links, bouncing around unpredictably, until it finds an “exit node,” and then that server (likely nowhere near the user) then makes the request, and the results are sent back through the network.
While Tor users are not as anonymous as they’d like, criminals use it to great effect, and that’s why Comcast would be reasonable to watch Tor use carefully.
Now, it turns out that the rumors were a lie that Comcast was targeting Tor users. Tor server owners, if they were pumping insane amounts of data, particularly Child Pornography, it wouldn’t surprise me if Comcast were shutting down. But ordinary Tor users? Nah.
Note that though. Tor, with its anonymity and encryption, is a favorite service of child pornographers and drug dealers. In fact these criminals use sites that are hosted within the Tor network, so called ‘hidden services’, to run entire rings of these activities. Silk Road was the most famous of those before the feds nabbed its owner and collected his ill-gotten Bitcoin gains. Others exist that don’t get the headlines.
Note that the original hidden Service software, Tor2web, was written by the late Aaron Swartz, who killed himself after being indicted for his own criminal activity online, and facing a hefty prison term when convicted.
So Tor nodes are carrying a lot of illegal activity, and if a user is running a Tor node on the Comcast network, then that user is using the Comcast network to facilitate criminal activity. If that user is also making lots of connections and burning a lot of bandwidth, then we’re faced with a situation similar to when Comcast targeted people running illegal Bittorrent seed farms to commit mass copyright infringement.
Abusing the network to break the law, making every other Comcast user’s Internet access worse in order to commit crimes, is not something Comcast should ever have to tolerate.
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