Anonymity and VPNs
In most instances, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is sufficient to hide your real identity while online. However as Cody Krestinger, who was using such a service (UK company “Hide My Ass”), found out, this may not always be the case.
In September 2011, the FBI arrested Cody, a 23-year old Phoenix resident and charged him with conspiracy and an unauthorized impairment of a protected computer, the Sony Pictures website. According to Reuters, Kretsinger pleaded guilty to both charges and could face up to 15 years in prison. “I joined LulzSec, your honor, at which point we gained access to the Sony Pictures website,” Kretsinger, known online as “recursion,” told the judge after entering his guilty plea. LulzSec was considered a spinoff of Anonymous.
In June of that year hackers associated with LulzSec, allegedly including Kretsinger, hacked into SonyPictures.com and compromised personal information of more than 1 Million users. Sony Pictures had to notify 37,500 users that their personal info might be at risk.
London based VPN provider Hide My Ass appears to have played a vital role in the arrest of Kretsinger. A leaked IRC chat log revealed that hackers, including “Recursion,” boasted about their illegal activities online and used HMA to conceal their identities. Many hackers assume fake online identities and go to great length to hide their location and other identifiable details for obvious reasons. However, hackers may possibly be over-reliant on the false sense of anonymity these VPNs boast about.
The VPN providers may give information to the US government. Because of the patriot act, they can demand any information they want, and it is freely given in the name of National Security.
So as an alternative for VPNs to stay hidden, a hacker can use TOR.
In this posting, I will talk about TOR and how to use it.
Let’s address the following:
- What is TOR and how does it work?
- How do I Download and Install TOR?
- How do I use TOR?
- Finding InterWeb content.
What is TOR and how does it work?
TOR (The Onion Router) is a network that tunnels your traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of PC’s.
This means when you want to connect to a website using TOR, you will not connect directly, but you will connect first to another PC, which also connects to another PC, then another, and another, etc.
This will happen a number of times, and each time the connection will be encrypted.
After that, the last PC, the exit-node, will connect to the page you requested.
The server you connected to will only see the last one’s IP address, so you stay hidden.
Here is an illustration of what is happening:
How do I Download and Install TOR?
TOR can be downloaded here:
This is the main project page where you can Download the “Tor Browser Bundle”
Just pick your Language and OS.
When the Download has finished, extract the data somewhere, using 7zip, winzip, or the built-in windows explorer unzip.
Now when you are done, just click the “start tor browser” application.
Yes! there is no Installation needed! great huh?
The Tor browser is basically a Firefox in a modified Aurora version.
How do I use TOR?
Basically you can use TOR just as any other Web browser.
My normal mode of operation is to have one TOR open and one normal browser open, so for misc anonymous stuff I use TOR and for things that need to be done quickly I just use my normal Chrome.
If you really want to stay out of sight, you will need to change some of your habits, as some things won’t work exactly as you are used to:
- Use the Tor Browser
Tor does not protect all of your computer’s Internet traffic when you run it. Tor only protects your applications that are properly configured to send their Internet traffic through Tor. To avoid problems with Tor configuration, we strongly recommend you use the Tor Browser Bundle. It is pre-configured to protect your privacy and anonymity on the web as long as you’re browsing with the Tor Browser itself. Almost any other web browser configuration is likely to be unsafe to use with Tor.
- Don’t enable or install browser plugins
The Tor Browser will block browser plugins such as Flash, RealPlayer, Quicktime, and others: they can be manipulated into revealing your IP address. Similarly, we do not recommend installing additional addons or plugins into the Tor Browser, as these may bypass Tor or otherwise harm your anonymity and privacy. The lack of plugins means that Youtube videos are blocked by default, but Youtube does provide an experimental opt-in feature (enable it here) that works for some videos.
- Use HTTPS versions of websites
Tor will encrypt your traffic to and within the Tor network, but the encryption of your traffic to the final destination website depends upon on that website. To help ensure private encryption to websites, the Tor Browser Bundle includes HTTPS Everywhere to force the use of HTTPS encryption with major websites that support it. However, you should still watch the browser URL bar to ensure that websites you provide sensitive information to display a blue or green URL bar button, include https:// in the URL, and display the proper expected name for the website.
- Don’t open documents downloaded through Tor while online
The Tor Browser will warn you before automatically opening documents that are handled by external applications. DO NOT IGNORE THIS WARNING. You should be very careful when downloading documents via Tor (especially DOC and PDF files) as these documents can contain Internet resources that will be downloaded outside of Tor by the application that opens them. This will reveal your non-Tor IP address. If you must work with DOC and/or PDF files, we strongly recommend either using a disconnected computer, downloading the free VirtualBox and using it with a virtual machine image with networking disabled, or using Tails. Under no circumstances is it safe to use BitTorrent and Tor together, however.
- Use bridges and/or find company
Tor tries to prevent attackers from learning what destination websites you connect to. However, by default, it does not prevent somebody watching your Internet traffic from learning that you’re using Tor. If this matters to you, you can reduce this risk by configuring Tor to use a Tor bridge relay rather than connecting directly to the public Tor network. Ultimately the best protection is a social approach: the more Tor users there are near you and the more diverse their interests, the less dangerous it will be that you are one of them. Convince other people to use Tor, too!
If you read these carefully, you shouldn’t get messed up.
Take a Ride on the InterWeb
Furthermore, you can use .onion links when you use TOR.
.onion links are links inside the TOR network, that won’t work with other browsers.
I won’t explain too much about them, only that they are like a secret part of the internet, hidden away from the other browsers. ie- watch what you get into, because much of it is hidden for a reason.
You can do your own search for TOR .onion links and I’m sure you will find plenty of stuff to mess around with.
Have fun with TOR, and stay hidden!