Long the scourge of prying authorities the world over, Tor and its users have finally been granted full, encrypted access to Facebook.
Although Tor users could access the social network from their maze of connections, Facebook’s servers regularly mistook visitors from Tor as hacked accounts. Tor hides personal, connection and browsing information with a complicated network of willing computers and other remote servers. A connection showing rapid movements between a handful of countries would always have been shut down by Facebook’s servers.
Tor users also found fault with the idea of remaining fully encrypted elsewhere but very visible when logged onto Facebook. So, in the interests of not losing visitors from an ever-increasing band of Tor adopters, Facebook have made this foray into new territory. Surprisingly, they are also the first Silicon Valley tech giant to do so.
Tor has faced the ire of several governments and connected agencies for some time now. Putin’s Russia offers a bounty when citizens turn in users, while more guarded nations such as China, Cuba and North Korea have fought long and hard to restrict their subjects’ access to the big blue website. Now they may not like their authority being undermined by one of the biggest examples of American capitalism in history.
Users will still need to supply a name and email address however; it’s simply the activity that isn’t traceable. Speaking to BaDoink, Dr. Steven Murdoch, a security researcher at University College London and personally consulted by Facebook on this project, said that Facebook had initiated the move themselves.
“Facebook have created a hidden service, which anyone can do without having to ask the Tor Project. In fact, one of the points of hidden services is that the Tor Project doesn’t even know that they exist… Facebook contacted various people in the Tor Project out of politeness and to ask for advice, because they knew they would become the most high profile Tor hidden service to date, but there’s no technical reason for them to have done so. I think this is a win for both sides. Tor users accessing Facebook are safer, which is in the interests of both the Tor Project and Facebook.”
Facebook has taken a bevy of criticism from all sides for their supposedly lax attitude towards their users’ personal info and security, but Dr Murdoch sees the move as one that puts an arm around the shoulders of a particular demographic.
“I expect that Facebook noticed that many people were connecting to Facebook using Tor because there is censorship preventing them from connecting directly. It is in Facebook’s interest to protect these users, and so that’s one of the reasons why I expect they created the hidden service.”
He also believes that this event could spark further co-operation from the Tor Project and the mainstream web.
“There was nothing stopping other companies doing the same, but Facebook has set a good example. I expect other companies will be considering whether to follow suit.”
Let’s just hope that some poor first-timer from Pyongyang doesn’t end up getting hooked on Farmville…