Web

Ingenious new service thwarts ISP snooping by allowing any site to join the Tor network

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Given the way that it’s frequently grouped in with the dark web, the Silk Road and Bitcoin, you could be forgiven for steering clear of Tor — or even thinking there’s something faintly sinister about it — if you’re a tech newbie.

Short for “The Onion Router,” Tor is free software designed to enable anonymous communication online. It works using a series of relays in what’s referred to as a “meshnet,” with as many as 50 different locations around the world forming links in an encryption chain before any information is ultimately passed from sender to receiver.

Far from being the scary stuff of a House of Cards subplot (okay, so it’s that as well!), Tor is an invaluable tool if you’re looking to provide extra privacy for people that visit your site, additional confidence that the site they’re visiting is yours, or a guarantee that access to your site cannot be blocked by an ISP, company, or state.

Starting this week, a hosting company in the U.K. is now offering a unique service that allows any website to have a presence on the Tor network, without requiring expensive redevelopment to do so.

“A number of companies have existing websites that they would like to add to the Tor network,” Dan Benton, the owner of Dogsbody Technology, told Digital Trends. “While the technology allows sites to ‘plug-in’ to the Tor network easily, site owners are left having to make expensive changes to their sites so that they don’t leak information in a way that would normally be fine on a public network, but doesn’t work on the Tor network. Our offering is effectively a proxy between the public web and Tor network, locked down and specifically built for the sites that want or need it. This is something that hasn’t existed until now.”

Benton said that Facebook proved that it’s good business to host your site on Tor, having launched their own Tor service in 2014. Three years later, they’re reporting huge numbers of visitors per month to their site’s Onion address. During that time, Benton has seen the number of requests for similar services from other companies and website owners skyrocket.

“Particularly of note are support organizations that want to enable victims of abuse to access help and support without the risk of discovery or persecution,” he continued. “Other groups are making their sites available via Tor to build trust with their communities, and protect users who want to reach out to and learn about services without fear of ISP or government monitoring.”

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