How Tor / the "Dark - Net" works and why you should care
What is the Tor Network?
Before going over the specific way Tor works let's first of all find out what it is in it's most basic form.
Tor is a network, created by the US Government and later published for global use, you can use to surf the web. It can be accessed through different ways, the simplest one though is the Tor Browser. The Tor Browser is a modified version of Firefox that aims to protect you from being spied on when browsing the internet which is the main purpose of the Tor network.
But how does it achieve that?
The Tor network is based on Onion Routing. Onion Routing is a type of encryption, where your data repetedly gets encrypted.
The reason it's called Onion Routing, is that each "layer" of encryption is "stacked" on top of the last one, just like the layers on an Onion are stacked on top of each other.
Now the encrypted data gets send through the network. On its way it will stop at multiple "Nodes"(Computers). Each of which got a key (the information to decrypt something that's encrypted) to decrypt one layer of the encryption. This will then tell the Node where to send the now decrypted data. If there still are encrypted layers left, this will be another node. If all layers got decrypted, the last Node will send your request to the webpage you want to access. The same happens for the data the webpage returns, only that the data gets encrypted by a Node in the network and that your PC decrypts the last layer.
The advantages of this type of encryption are as follows:
- If someone is spying on your internet traffic (for example in a public WiFi Network) they can't find out what you are doing online because everything you send and receive is encrypted.
- Websites can't find out where you're connecting from as the only data ip address they see is the address of the Node that decrypted the last layer
- This advantage, in some way, is related to Number 2. Because your IP address isn't visible for the websites you use, the NSA (or any other service like them) also can't see what you are doing online.
Sadly like everything in life, using Tor comes with some downsides:
- Because of all the encryption and decryption that needs to happen, using Tot is slower than using the normal internet
- The last Node in the chain can still see your requests
- Many Nodes in the Network are actually owned by the NSA
Using Tor also makes you able to use the "Dark-Net". Sites on the dark net end with .onion and aren't accessible with normal webbrowsers. This is the case because they are located inside the Tor network.
With sides on the dark-web, other than with, for example google.com, your data never leaves the Tor network. If you wanted to access google.com, your request would get send into the to network, be decrypted by multiple Nodes and then leave the Tor network to go to the google servers. Because the Dark-Web-Websites are inside the network, they can be the last Node to decrypt your request and therefore noone but the webpage and you can see what data was send.
This setup is perfect for online privacy, as it's close to impossible to find out who send something or what was send using the dark net.
Therefore the dark net became a great place for activists aswell as whistleblowers (like Edward Snowden) to spread knowledge and publish data anonymously. But not every part of the dark web is that positive.
The dark side of the dark web
The dark web also makes life easier for the black market becuase neither the recipient nor the seller or even what was bought can be tracked down. Therefore if someone wants to buy drucks or weapons online, the dark net makes the process quite a lot easier.
Even though the the dark net does come with its caveat, it's still really important for people like whistleblowers and also for normal webusers.
After all, information is power, so should we just hand it to any webpage we're using?
Maybe more people should at least use the Tor-Browser even if it is a bit slower