Is TOR Illegal? The Most Asked Question

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is TOR Illegal

Tor is a secure browser that was developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory in the mid-1990s. The purpose of establishing such ‘onion routing’ channel was to protect US intelligence communication after which it was publicly released in 2004.

Tor enables anonymous access to numerous websites. Therefore, it is not only used by the legit users but also for the illegitimate purposes by the criminals. For instance, it is used by the hackers, criminals, law enforcement agencies for cross purposes and many other fraudsters. That’s why a question arises is that, is Tor illegal? And nowadays this question is asked by many.

You can get a better answer and explanation by reading the article further but, the major answer to this question is that Tor is not illegal in itself. However, there are certain aspects which have grayed the legitimacy of Tor browser.

What is Tor and How it Works?

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Tor is the abbreviation for The Onion Router which was the project initiated by the US Navy. According to the Tor project, there are some legitimate purposes for which it could be used.

  • The individuals who do have to keep their data safe. For instance, journalists require safe communication with the whistleblowers.
  • The NGO workers who want to connect their home sites remotely.
  • Law enforcement officers to securely perform their mission activities.
  • To protect children online and to remain secure from identity thefts.

There are some other uses also which are stated on the official site of Tor project.

Working of Tor

The Tor network is used to obscure identity which is achieved by passing a user’s traffic through various Tor servers. Therefore, the traffic seems to be generating from the random nodes of Tor network instead of the user’s computer.

The Tor network is based on thousands of computer servers which are spread all over the globe. When your data enters the Tor network, it is transferred into an encrypted bundle. This encrypted set of information doesn’t contain your addressing data and it is directed through many relay servers. Yet, every relay server only decrypts the part of the information which tells that from which relay the data is coming from and to which it should be sent.

That is why it is named as the onion router which has many layers of encryption like onion layers. But, this process makes your speed slow as it goes to a lot of relays and encrypting process.

Is Tor Illegal – Why Has The Question Arise

First of all, it is necessary to clear a difference between anonymity and security. Tor does provide obscurity to the identity of an individual but it cannot prevent the online service from detecting usage of Tor for accessing their channel. Therefore, someone like NSA can determine a Tor user and can more easily target that individual.

Furthermore, the network composition of Tor makes it hard to be broken, yet the browser could simply be accessed. Therefore, the “man in the middle” kinds of attacks still have a chance when you are using the Tor browser. But this doesn’t make Tor illegal itself.

Provides Hidden Services to Many

An illegality mark or confusion to Tor network could also be due to the hidden services it provides to websites and servers. In this case, the hidden service servers are connected to receive only inbound connections through Tor. With such process, the server’s IP address remains obscure and is accessed through its onion address, usually through the Tor browser.

Tor network has established a distributed hash table within its network which has some introduction points. Tor network understands the address through looking at these introduction points and corresponding public keys of onion address. This can direct the data to and from the hidden services even which are hosted behind the firewall or network address translators. Therefore, the anonymity of both, the user and the service is kept. Yet, Tor is necessary to access the hidden services.

There is a huge list of Tor hidden services, whereas some of the websites included in the list are illegal or some of the content in it is illegal. For instance, the child pornography websites are all illegal and have restrictions. Also, the dark web and torrenting sites like The Pirate Bay have some illegal content in it.

Is Excessively Used for Illegal Purposes  

Tor isn’t illegal itself but there are many illegal deeds which are carried out with the help of gaining anonymity through Tor. A paper published by the researchers at Kings College in 2016 shows the ratio of how much Tor is used for illicit purposes.

They describe all these categories as follows;

These results concluded that most of the activities which are performed on Tor are illegal including drugs, illegal finance, and pornography.

Tor can be used for the anonymous defamation, unapproved news leaks of sensitive information, copyright infringement, circulation of illicit sexual content, selling of controlled substances (weapons and credit card numbers), money laundering, bank fraud and an ongoing long list.

This is why people confuse in between the question of Tor being illegal or not.

What Is The Benefit Of Using Tor Browser?

Tor is used by many individuals especially the ones who are working in a confidential field such as a journalist. They sometimes need privacy because of strict regional laws and the risk of privacy loss. Therefore, it is considered as a simple way to anonymize the traffic and confidential data from snoopers.

Tor is not used just by the professionals; it is also considered a beneficial tool for the ones who want privacy against the tracking of internet providers, third-party advertisers, and the internet sites. Such demand is not necessarily to carry out the practices which are against the rules instead it’s mostly when people don’t want their browsing activity to be exposed.

As discussed above, the Tor browser provides hidden services to many websites which are only accessible with the Tor browser. These hidden services also include the sites like child pornography and that’s why it’s questioned that is Tor illegal or not.

Where Tor Lacks?

Many of the users think that Tor’s anonymity could not be compromised, however, it could be. This is because the Tor users could be easily pointed out by agencies like NSA if they couldn’t see the data of users. This is how the Tor users could be in trouble and more likely to be targeted by the NSA or other agencies.

Other than that the security is also a concern with the Tor browser. You might be mistaking security with anonymity but these are two different things. The man-in-the-middle attacks are possible via the browser and then it is easier to intervene in the Tor network too. The speed is also an issue with the Tor browser but it is not the factor that impacts the legality.

Should You Use Tor Or Not?

As told before, Tor isn’t safe from man-in-the-middle attack and the agencies like NSA could spy on your activities. So, it’s better to use HTTPS everywhere when Tor is connected.

If you are performing regular internet activities while being on Tor, then there isn’t something to worry about being tracked. However, in every case, Tor will make you browsing speed slow due to the anonymity procedure it implements on your data.

But, it is vital to ask yourself that, you want anonymity or security? If you are willing for security as well as anonymity then a VPN could be a more appropriate choice as it encrypts all your internet traffic. It has quite more benefits over Tor.

However, you should always make sure to check every security tool you are using and it is necessary to know the loopholes of that tool. Nothing is 100% perfect to date.

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Zehra Ali is a Tech Reporter and Journalist. She has done her Masters in Mass Communication. Topics related to cybersecurity, IoT, AI, Big Data and other privacy matters are extensively covered by her on various platforms. You can follow her on twitter.

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