If you’re at all concerned about online privacy, you’ve probably heard about Tor, a service that lets you surf anonymously. The Tor Project is making it even easier with the Tor Browser Bundle.
Tor stands for The Onion Router. It works by routing network traffic through a series of nodes instead of the normal Internet, with a layer of encryption applied with each hop, like layers of onion skin. The path that the data takes through the Tor nodes is random, making it very difficult to track where the packets are coming from.
In the past, using and installing TOR could be a rather geeky experience. You had to install the TOR software itself. Then you had to master the Tor command-line program. Then you had to tell your browser to use a proxy server, the TOR client that was running on your computer in order to route your Web traffic. You also had to install another proxy server on top of that to prevent your DNS requests (the thing that turns your Web addresses into IP Addresses the computer can understan) from leaking out onto the normal Internet and having your surfing being tracked that way. Later on, the Tor project bundled all of these components together in a package that is fairly easy to use, as long as you remembered to start Tor and toggle Torbutton in Firefox.
TOR developer Mike Perry thinks that this might not be enough. “I think the average user is horribly confused by both the toggle model and the need to install additional software into Firefox (or conversely, the need to *also* install Tor software onto their computers after they install Torbutton),” he said in a blog post. “I also think that the average user is not likely to use this software safely. They are likely to log in to sites over Tor that they shouldn’t, forget which tor mode they are in, and forget which mode certain tabs were opened under. These are all nightmare situations for anonymity and privacy.” Perry also cites Mozilla’s slowness in fixing several bugs in Firefox that are essential for TOR working properly.
The TOR project will now concentrate on the Tor Browser Bundle. It’s a complete package that includes all of the TOR project software and a custom version of Firefox that’s completely self-contained and can run from a USB stick on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It should be easy for non-geeky activists, journalists in countries that restrict free speech and anyone else who wants to discuss sensitive topics to be able to communicate with other people a little more safely than using the regular Internet.
We’ve covered Firefox with The Top 25 Firefox Extensions for Web Developers and 11 Best Firefox Extensions for Facebook and Twitter.