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Sunday, August 13, 2006

HTTP Halitosis - Onion Routing

So I know there have been alot of articles, blogs, etc. that have covered anonymous web browsing, and so this may not be much news to alot of people, however, every time it comes up and I ask people if they are familiar with Tor, I get blank stares, so I figured it was worth mentioning. I have found it quite useful in the past, although not for the same reason as it was designed. More on that in a sec.

Tor is open source and is self-proclaimed "onion routing" software. Onion as in ogre (Shrek). Its got layers. The concept is fairly simple and works well. Hundreds of other open-source groupies all over the world voluntarily run the server version of Tor. You configure the client portion on your system, and when you run your browser through the local Tor proxy, the request gets routed through several of the Tor servers all over the world before it reaches the web server you are requesting. Each node in the "layered" request only knows about the node on either side, aka where traffic came from and where it is going, so it creates an anonymous connection. At least in the simplest sense of anonymous. Just don't forget about some of the cookie tracking features that many websites employ, Google being the most notable of those (I assume that's the only search engine you use. If not, get a clue!). For more on that, and how to avoid it, check out this site.

Now, I can't say that I really worry too much about being watched by Big Brother, or anyone else for that matter, at least as far as my web surfing goes, so I haven't really used Tor for anonymous surfing much, although I do find the technology very interesting. I have however used it quite frequently to test the external facing aspects of various websites and server configurations I have developed. Since it often provides an international IP address, and at the least, a remote US one, it is perfect for testing services as they appear to the rest of the Internet. On top of that, it is alot safer than using one of the many free anonymous proxies that exist out on the web.


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