Bonus Section: Tor

As a rule of thumb, I would say don't worry about Tor, but because it is so common, and because many people have valid reasons to want to circumvent censorship or tracking reliably, I've decided to include a brief overview of the software and how to use it.

Tor is an acronym for "The Onion Router," because it works in layers. It is a software that was developed by the US Navy in 1990s as a way to protect US Intelligence communications online. In 2004 the code was released to the public and taken over by the nonprofit Tor Project in 2006. The Tor network is also the primary method of accessing the so-called "deep web." Contrary to media portrayals, the deep web is not only used for drugs and child porn. It is used to help people around the world bypass censorship. Facebook, The New York Times, ProtonMail, and a variety of other legitimate, great services all have deep web links to bypass censorship.

Here's how it works: imagine you write a letter. You put the letter in an envelope and hand it to Person A. Person A hands it to Person B. Person B hands it to Person C. Person C opens the letter and delivers it. In Tor, Person A is called a guard node, Person B is a middle node, and Person C is an exit node. Guard nodes can see who you and Person B are, but they can't see your content. Middle nodes can only see Persons A and C. They don't know who you are or your content. Exit nodes can see Person B and the content/destination, but they don't know who you are. This offers both encryption and anonymity.

For the average user, Tor is mainly accessed via the Tor Browser, a heavily modified version of Firefox designed to help you safely and anonymously browse the Tor network as well as the "clearnet" or regular internet.

If you live in a heavily restricted area, I encourage you to use the Tor browser (very carefully!) to help bypass censorship. Tor's anonymity is relatively easy to break, so I don't recommend using it for anything illegal or unethical. There's a lot of factors that go into it besides just using the browser. Additionally, your internet service provider can see that you are using Tor. They can't see your traffic, but they can see Tor. So if you live in a small town, you may actually stick out because you're probably the only one using Tor.

Tor is a fantastic tool, but you should be careful with it. Anonymity is not just about using a single software or technique, but a combination of them. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the Tor Browser alone gives you total anonymity online.

Tor Warning

Tor's anonymity benefits can be easily defeated if you're not careful. First off, remember that the exit node (aka Person C) can see your traffic. That means if you're not using HTTPS, the person who runs the node can easily see your login information. Never, ever log into anything on Tor unless you can see the HTTPS verification in the address bar. Second, never use any sort of torrenting over Tor. Not only is it slower than a VPN, it runs the risk of de-anonymizing you. Third, be aware there are numerous known weaknesses in Tor that allow you to be deanonymized. Most of these are expensive and complicated, so generally they would require someone powerful intentionally looking for you, so when using Tor be careful not to do anything illegal or unethical. Make sure to use the same healthy browsing habits on Tor that you would anywhere, such as not clicking unfamiliar links and using HTTPS.

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