A little more privacy with Tor

A week ago I had a rather long argument with a Danish MP about privacy, surveillance and Tor. It was a very fruitless experience, and I was quite saddened by the whole ordeal. She really didn’t “get” it. Surveillance and draconian measures against privacy was her cure against crime and terrorism. She was quite willing to yield basic democratic rights for a little bit of extra perceived safety.

Sad.

One good thing came out of it though: It pushed me to finally start actively supporting Tor.

What I wanted was to run a Tor exit node, as rumor has it that exit nodes are in high demand. What I also wanted was some basic protection against insane DMCA take down notices. So I set out to do three things:

  1. Familiarize myself with Tor
  2. Find somewhere to host an anonymous e-mail address
  3. Setup an anonymous BitCoin wallet
  4. Find a VPS host where I could pay for my server with BitCoins

1. was easy: I downloaded the Tor Browser Bundle, got it going and started using Tor. Also I read a whole bunch of wiki pages, blog posts and whatever else I could find about Tor and how to run a relay. All in all I’d say that using Tor and getting active with Tor is very easy. It does not require a whole heap of technical skill. If you can read, you can do this.

2. was as also surprisingly easy. After a bit of searching around (using the Tor browser of course!), I found a host that offered a webmail account without any hassle. I signed up, logged in and that was that. It took all of 5 minutes to setup.

With 3 I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but it truly was dead-simple to get going. I opted for a few online wallets, and I used my newly created anonymous e-mail address to sign up. I then bought some BitCoins, and had them transferred to my personal wallet, from where I moved them to some newly created BitCoin addresses in my new anonymous wallets. BitCoins are awesome.

4 caused me the most trouble. I found a few hosts that apparently offered VPSs for BitCoins, but none of them responded when I asked them about their views on hosting Tor exit nodes on their network. I did though manage to find a host that blankly told me that they really didn’t care, as long as I paid my bills and handled DMCA notices myself. Obviously I can’t tell you the name of the host, as that would compromise my anonymity, but I can assure you that if you just shop around for a few hours, you will find a vendor that accepts BitCoins and at the same time will allow you to run an exit node. A good place to start is with the GoodBadISPs wiki page.

So with all of the above in place, I got my Tor relay up and running. Right now I’m just testing out things with a plain relay, but as soon as I’m comfortable with that and I’ve convinced myself that my server is properly configured, I’m going full in with a proper Tor exit node. Privacy for the win! Oh and do remember that if you want to stay anonymous, then you have to use something like usewithtor for SSH access to your server, else the host will know where you are, and potentially who you are. Obviously with the rather small amount of exit nodes available, my anonymity isn’t all that great, so I consider this mostly an academic exercise. :)

If you’d like to help Tor, but don’t feel like mucking about with servers, configuration, firewalls and whatnot, then take a look at the Tor Cloud project. For free you can setup a Tor bridge using a pre-configured AWS instance. The more bridges we have, the better, so please do this. It’s easy, and you support a good cause.

Remember: We need Tor, more than ever.