How Much Are We Censoring and Captcha-ing Tor Users?

Mathew Sayer In the News

Tor, the best way to stay anonymous online, is currently having some difficulties with LiquidVPN and the surface web. Users are denied access to LiquidVPN and other websites that use CloudFlare and Akamai services to prevent incoming attacks on critical infrastructure. The problem represents a wider challenge the internet is facing with anonymity and security.

Researchers from some of the world’s top universities presented a paper on Tor blocking. The research looked at which of Alexa’s top 1000 websites blocked Tor users. CloudFlare and Akamai are dominant blockers. Given that the policies of centralised web services trickle-down to their users censorship sometimes is spread inadvertently.

A ticket involving Tor developers and CloudFlare employees dives deeply into the technical, political and economic aspects of the problem. Tor users repeatedly have to solve captchas. Some of these captchas require enabling Javascript; creating security issues for anonymous users. CloudFlare’s rebuttal is that the anonymity provided by Tor makes it a useful tool for launching attacks. The crux of the problem is to find a way to differentiate between abusive and non-abusive anonymous traffic.

Using Tor negates paying Google and Facebook with personal data. But this flies in the face of the surveillant capitalism’s business model. Not that Tor users are filthy reds either. The conversion rate (the number of visitors to paying customers) for Tor exit nodes was 1:895 while non-Tor IPs had a rate of 1:834 (Akamai).

Akamai’s Q2 2015 State of the Internet report found that exit nodes accounted for 0.04% of legitimate requests and  Non-Tor IPs for 99.96%. But for malicious requests Tor accounted for 1.26% compared to non-Tor IPs 98.74%.

Users Tor-n apart

Website owners like us, face a choice between immediate and future problems. Immediately they have to keep their sites online and making money to pay rent. But the future problem is the dystopic, algorithmic, Panoptic, control society. Seemingly everything but the risks of a control society can be profiled and analysed with actuarial accuracy.