Tor tutorial

Monday 30 March 2015

A lot of bitcoiners use Tor, a browser that protects users’ anonymity by encrypting traffic and bouncing it around multiple nodes around the world. The majority of them are not engaged in illegal activity, although the collapse of the Evolution dark market proves once again that a certain demographic are drawn to the benefits of anonymous browsing combined with a hard-to-trace currency (when it’s treated carefully). Rather, it’s because bitcoin first became popular in libertarian circles where any unwanted interference, government or otherwise, was viewed with extreme concern. As time goes on, further revelations of intrusive state and corporate surveillance make a strong case for anonymous browsing, even for entirely law-abiding citizens. (It’s worth noting that many users live in oppressive regimes where freedoms many of us take for granted simply don’t exist.) In any case, here’s a brief guide to getting started.

See also: Dead drops: the answer to the problems of using bitcoin over Tor

Tor homepage

Bitcoin, Tor and anonymity - warnings

First up, a warning: be very careful about using bitcoin over Tor. A recent research paper highlights an attack vector by which Tor users’ identities can be compromised and even bitcoins stolen. Blockchain.info had to stop Tor users connecting to their online wallet after a series of thefts by malicious exit nodes; they have now found a fix involving using their own .onion address: blockchainbdgpzk.onion. (All .onion addresses are only accessible over Tor, and this one is also secured by an SSL certificate.)

A second warning: if you’re the paranoid type, then you should know that even searching for ‘Tor’ and other terms around internet privacy will get you flagged for further attention by the NSA. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal unless you’re also ticking a load of other boxes, since a vast range of searches are flagged: even readers of one popular linux journal found, to their dismay, that they had been added to the ‘watch’ list. 

Getting started

Downloading Tor and getting started is extremely easy. The browser is a modified version of Firefox, so will be familiar to many users.

Start by heading on over to https://www.torproject.org/ and going to the Download tab. There are versions for Windows 7, 8, Vista and XP, and Mac and Linux too. Download and run the executable file (for Windows) to install it, then start Tor. Go for the simple ‘Connect’ option unless you know what you’re doing.

It might take a few moments to connect, then you’ll be taken to the homescreen, complete with Startpage - a search engine that doesn’t require you to sign in and won’t track your browsing. (Not only that, but it’s pretty good, too, with a nice, clean interface and uncluttered results.) That’s it - you’re good to go.

Getting around

You can visit any site on the regular web with Tor. The software hides your IP address by encrypting it and ‘onion’ routing it through many different nodes, so no one can tell where it’s coming from. It’s a slower than you’ll be used to because of this, so it’s not suited to live streaming, amongst other things. But at the expense of a little speed you get excellent security.

You’ll also have the darkweb at your fingertips - not all of which is as unsavoury as you may have been led to believe by the mainstream press. Future articles will take you on a tour of some of the highlights and lowlights.

Note that just using Tor won’t always ensure your anonymity: you may need to change some of your browsing habits, and it’s well worth reading around the site for more information.


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