It looks like Tor users are having difficulty surfing and navigating the World Wide Web, as some websites have set up discriminating rules against people who are using Tor to browse the web.
The number of websites seems to be growing, too, as shown in a relatively new study.
Tor is an anonymity network that protects the user’s privacy.
It does so by encrypting their browsing traffic through a network of distributed nodes, routing that traffic via a random proxy servers.
This started out as a military project by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and now maintained by a non-profit organization called the Tor Project.
Tor Users – Second-Class Citizens?
The claim isn’t just something that came out from conspiracy theorists.
A paper entitled Do You See What I See?
Differential Treatment of Anonymous Users, created by computer scientists from Berkeley and International Computer Science Institute, University of California, University College London, University of Cambridge was presented in the NDSS conference held in San Diego.
Researchers and computer scientists alike scanned IPv4 address spaces at the network layer and found that 1.3 million websites block incoming connections from known Tor exit node.
Furthermore, it was found that almost 4 percent of the top one thousand Alexa-ranked websites block Tor applications from getting in.
These restrictions cause Tor users as being treated as “second-class citizens” on the Internet.
All of those who chose to be anonymous get a much lower online treatment, much less getting blocked from access, or relegated to being served a degraded browsing experience.
Tor users see “Access Denied” browser prompts, and sometimes they are subject to endless CAPTCHA exercises that get nowhere, according to the report on the study mentioned.
The second-rate service disappears entirely if a person visits the website without the use of Tor.
Alarmingly, the number of websites that do this is growing in numbers day by day, to the detriment of Tor’s usefulness.
Anonymous communication is very vital and critical for people who bypass restrictions imposed by their own governments, but what happens if Tor users get an “unspecial” treatment? Anonymity networks such as Tor will have severe limitations if this continues to happen.
Why the Differential Treatment?
People who want to use the Tor will have to download a modified version of the Firefox browser.
When they visit a website, the admin of that site will only see the IP address coming from the exit nodes, which are located from all over the world.
This anonymity holds some positive virtues, but it also holds a dark side.
Cyber attackers can also use this privacy to hide their activities.
Larger companies have recognized the danger and come up with a solution, one that sets up an attack-resistant delivery system that blocks or restricts how they interact with the website.
The security is heightened if Tor comes into play.
Researchers have found that almost all of these websites belong to ASes, or Autonomous Systems which include hosting services, ISPs, and mobile platforms.
Some of these entities block Tor as a whole; in such cases, it blocks IP addresses emanating from Tor exit nodes.
Classifiers were also introduced in order to map the sites back to their webhosting services.
Some of the most prominent webhosting services that block Tor at the base level were Akamai and CloudFlare, with security tech such as centralized, Tor-unfriendly web services that trickle down from server to hundreds and thousands of client websites.
The way that CloudFlare blocks Tor users isn’t of the straightforward matter.
It uses a reputation score based on exit nodes.
Should an IP address be deemed as “disreputable,” the user will be subject to CAPTCHA prompts, which are a bunch of jumbled, random letters and numbers individuals have to solve before they proceed.
Currently, Tor Project has a list of blocked messages that should indicate they are being served restricted access.
These restrictions also present a dilemma to those who cannot access websites due to the censorship their countries have placed.
Using anonymity services such as Tor is sometimes the only way these people can get through.
Solutions are therefore being called into light due to these abuse-blocking measures, one that could filter through and differentiate benign Tor users from the more abusive ones who share one exit node.
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