U. researchers recruited for Tor Project, an online platform for anonymityand Kristin Qian | Mar 1, 2016
Three University researchers have recently been recruited by the Tor Project, a nonprofit organization that enables anonymous communication over the internet.
Tor, by rerouting messages and data through multiple layers, allows users to access the internet without revealing their identity or location, according to its website.
According to an article by The Register, Tor had contracted Roya Ensafi and Philipp Winter, postdoctoral research associates in computer science, and Nick Feamster, a professor of computer science.
Feamster and Ensafi did not respond to requests for comment.
After the Paris terrorist attacks last year, the French government proposed to increase its security measures by banning the use of Tor, according to an article in Le Monde. Terrorists are increasingly using Tor to stay anonymous online, according to BBC.
University Media Specialist Min Pullan noted that the faculty’s participation is not a University-led initiative.
According to Winter, the Tor project is currently working to mitigate the issue of "malicious nodes," a situation when one Tor network user compromises the anonymity or confidentiality of another user.
Winter explained that a "node" is a computer that is ran by an unknown volunteer. In the Tor network, a user, through his or her own browser, sends data to another web server through several "nodes." In the situation of a "malicious node," the volunteer can manipulate the system to extract sensitive details such as passwords to secure accounts and record high volumes of personal information.
Winter said that there are mainly two protection measuresagainst these malicious ones, noting that one can systematically detect and block these nodes while also encrypting the users in traffic. In other words, users, when launching Tor, will have their information fully encrypted.
Winter, along with several others, recently published a paper that analyzed methods to systematically detect "malicious nodes."
Kate Krauss, a director of communications for the Tor Project, noted in a statementthat many members of the Tor community are researchers, and the project relies on their work to help make the Tor network strong and resilient.
“This particular research enables us to both understand the network better and detect certain attacks before they can do harm,” she wrote.
Winter explained that he began working with Tor in 2011 as a Ph.D. candidate, adding he is currently a volunteer and does not receive any salary from Tor. He said that the University pays salary for his research on Tor.
Over the course of his research, Winter added that he has studied and researched subjects including censorship, user trustworthiness and anonymity attacks.
In light of controversies surrounding the Tor network, Winter noted that it is important to account for the benefits the system brings.
“The way we perceive it is highly asymmetric, you only hear about the bad uses in the newspaper, not the good uses,” Winter said.“The good uses far, far outweigh the bad uses.”
He explained that there are hundreds of thousands of people who use it to prevent themselves from stalkers, abusers and to devise censorship resistant services.
For example, Winter explained that Sci-Hub was a service started by a Tor user in Kazakhstan to host science research papers that are too expensive to access, although the service was, however, recently shut down.
Tor also enables an additional layer of security protection, Winter explained, as Facebook is running a Tor hidden service.
According to Winter, Tor has a diversity of funding sources including the U.S. government and the government of Sweden. A lot of funding also derives from independent funders who want to see specific projects accomplished, he said.