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TOR – Useful Or Solely A Tool For Criminals?

The recent release of personal data of thousands of people from a well-known dating site has again sparked the debate of whether TOR (The Onion Router) is a useful tool for everyday people, or just a tool for criminals to peddle their wares.

The recent release of personal data of thousands of people from a well-known dating site has again sparked the debate of whether TOR (The Onion Router) is a useful tool for everyday people, or just a tool for criminals to peddle their wares.

TOR was designed to enable anonymous communication and intended to protect the personal privacy of users as well as their freedom and ability to conduct confidential communication by keeping their internet activities from being monitored.

It is an interesting discussion. TOR was originally created for the US Navy to communicate securely and then further developed by DARPA. DARPA supported the creation of ARPANET, the kind of predecessor to the internet as we know it today (loosely speaking), so they were well equipped to take this technology further.

TOR is widely used by civilians, journalists, hackers, security researchers and just about anyone else! Civilians in countries where they do not believe in free speech use it to post blogs about their life without the fear of repercussions. Journalists use it to send their reports securely from countries who try to monitor all communications.

Remember, TOR is not only used to access the “deep-web” (websites which are not listed in standard search engines), it can also just be used to mask your data when accessing “normal” websites like this one. TOR and the deep-web should be thought of separately, TOR is just the technology that is encrypting traffic, and on its own it is serving a very good purpose. However, people will always find a way to use this for their own benefit such as to provide illegal products or services.

It is no secret that the deep-web houses some pretty shady and completely illegal things. One cursory look through a list of available sites will make the general public gasp in horror. For example:

  • Secure search engines
  • Buy/Sell Credit Cards
  • Buy/Sell Paypal Accounts
  • Buy counterfeit currency
  • Guns/Ammo
  • Stolen Mobile Phones / Tables
  • Hacking Services
  • Passports

I have left out some of the more illegal categories as I wouldn’t want to expose anyone to the horror of even reading about those.

However, as I say, TOR can be used for good (or strange). Another look at a list of sites reveals the following:

  • Information on the steam tunnels at Virginia Tech
  • A Middle East news provider
  • Multi-lingual Wiki page
  • Annonymous Blog
  • Secure email services
  • Facebook (released their TOR version October 2014)
  • Intelligence exchange for journalists

These are not illegal, they are serving a purpose which enables people across the world to communicate securely and ultimately stay alive!

It was only recently that a blogger from Saudi Arabia was killed for posting messages which fellow countrymen did not approve of.

So should it be banned? No, it is a vital tool which helps thousands of legitimate people every day.

Should it be monitored? No. That would detract from its core offering.

There are other ways to curb the illegal offerings that present themselves on the deep-web and it would be unfair to take away such a widely used technology because of a few bad apples.

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