With the continuing rise of Little Brother’s Truth Movement, internet anonymity (for personal and activist reasons) has quickly moved itself to the forefront of some of the most crucial and immediate debates of present day–and far from being a clear-cut answer, whether or not internet Anonymity is a technically feasible possibility is still being answered conclusively.
Becoming the primary Gateway to the “Deep Web/Dark Net” servers of the Internet, Tor Browser and its “onion-layered encryption” has become a primary focus of this debate. Since the Internet itself was developed by DARPA, and Tor was in turn developed by US Naval Intelligence, it is unfortunately something that will never truly be able to get answered unless/until there is some definitive source documents that leak, implying the US Government’s true lack of control over Tor. Granted, there were some Snowden files released stating just this, but a few years have already passed since then, and in any case, Snowden is an ambiguous character to begin with. On the other hand, the extensive amount of illegal black-market exchange on the Tor browser could just as easily suggest this lack of control already. Hence, the convolution of the debate.
For those unfamiliar with how Tor works, the onion-layered encryption is actually a fairly self-explanatory title. Tor serves as a convolution of IP address data, and uses a three-layer piggy back system that uses the entire population of IP addresses on Tor, and this protocol is activated at the “Entry/Exit Nodes” of the servers. This is to say that, using all people logged onto the browser, Tor will toss your “identity” through the “identity” of other people three more times before you reach your destination.
Now, from a technical point-of-view, this is an incredibly basic, but incredibly nifty form of what could be called, “internet inconspicuousness” but the reality of the matter is that Tor itself is not enough for literal anonymity. Let’s set aside the following possibilities for a moment: that the US Government has the ability to decrypt Tor data; that US Government has not inherently written backdoors into their Naval Intelligence technology; that the US Government couldn’t access an IP address’ data by using the backdoor of the computing device itself.
Even if Tor encryption was completely fool-proof, the catch is this: The hunter doesn’t need the prey’s IP address as the first clue. Inevitably, the IP address must be identified in order to have a conclusive trail, but as can be seen with today’s predictive programming for online shopping (at places like Amazon.com, Target.com, et cetera) a person’s aggregated internet data can prove to be as telling as a personal conversation with them–becoming like a digital fingerprint. Once the metadata is aggregated, it can be cross-analyzed in order to identify an anonymous user quite easily.
Additionally, it should be now clarified that the US government is actively infecting personal computing devices and using backdoor points in other computer browser programs (like the FBI honeypotting Tor data through Mozilla Firefox, which has been reported to be patched since) in order to aggregate data on users. Alleged Snowden leaks also claimed that the NSA has yet to penetrate Tor servers, but this could easily be outdated information at this point, if it was even credible to begin with (shout-out to Glenn Greenwald’s $250-million media investment from Pierre Omidyar, of NSA-friendly eBay/PayPal).
Perhaps what can ultimately said on the matter is this: Internet Anonymity may be as elusive as the esoteric Enlightenment concept. This is not to say that either are impossible or even implausible, but that they are multi-faceted equations that require diligence, precision, and intensive attention to detail at all times. Generally speaking, this anonymity is a two-part equation of hiding both data and metadata, and unless someone has the knowledge of a literal computer scientist, it could be considered a pipe dream. Besides, Tor only accounts for half of this equation to begin with, and can do nothing to hide browsing habits. This is up to the user.
It’s important for researchers to remember that social engineering and “controlled opposition” movements of the Surveillance State are incredibly prevalent (case in point: Timothy Leary’s relationship with CIA Director Allen Dulles; ARAB SPRING and the Color Revolutions; or even Operation MOCKINGBIRD, Operation NORTHWOODS, Operation GLADIO). The possibility that the centrifuge of American internet activism that is the Ed Snowden/Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept/Tor Browser/Anonymous and even Julian Assange could have the possibility of having this same origin. While evidence seems to point to Assange’s authenticity for the time being, and that the jury is still out on Tor, there are unfortunately a broad variety questions that leave very reasonable doubt when looking into Snowden, Greenwald, and Anonymous.
To wrap this up, anonymity may not be easily achievable, but inconspicuousness is a very realistic goal that can prevent a great deal of damage done from aggregated data and metadata taken for any reason. At this point, Tor Browser is the only way to access the Deep Web, and when looking into the massive amount of traffic that has happened and continues to happen illegally every single day without charges made, it can be safely deduced that this cat has jumped out of the US Government’s bag to a degree–of this there is no doubt. Even if Tor is compromised, it certainly does not appear that the NSA have free reign over the servers. But more than likely, Tor is in fact compromised to certain extents, and it is already a matter of record that the NSA is compiling all user data related to Tor browser, encryption and all, for when it does become accessible. In the end, it’s probably a general truth that one couldn’t be any more anonymous participating in an internet chatroom than they could be participating in a real chatroom–in the grand scheme of things, that is. Essentially, what this means is that there is power in numbers, and that it’s much easier for a needle to hide in a large haystack than if it stands alone by itself. If someone has reasons to look and looks hard enough, they will likely always be able to find some sort of trail.
Sources: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2052149/tor-stands-strong-against-the-nsa-but-your-browser-can-bring-you-down.html, http://www.computerworld.com/article/2863937/snowden-docs-show-tor-truecrypt-tails-topped-nsas-most-wanted-list-in-12.html, https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2014/12/how_the_fbi_unm.html, https://www.rt.com/usa/nsa-target-tor-network-739/, http://www.cryptogon.com/?p=624, http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2006/10/01/anonymous-blogging-with-wordpress-and-tor/
This work by The Last American Vagabond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, and may be reposted as is, with attribution to the author and TheLastAmericanVagabond.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Ryan@thelastamericanvagabond.com.