Wikipedia has been subject to online censorship on some occasions in countries including China, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Turkey. Some instances are results of widespread internet censorship in general.
Other times, the censorship is put in place to prevent web users from accessing specific content deemed controversial or offensive.
This essential online encyclopedia is easily accessible especially in western countries wherein many average web users take it for granted.
However, Wikipedia use in some countries is very difficult if not dangerous.
Take Turkey, which began blocking access to the site in April following a government crackdown after the unsuccessful coup attempt.
The Turkish government rejected the Wikimedia Foundation’s appeal to unblock the site. This is a familiar story in one too many countries.
For this reason, it will come as great news that a former Facebook security engineer has developed an experimental dark web version of the online encyclopedia site.
The engineer, Alec Muffett, recently revealed through a Twitter post that he had set up the onion site to make using the web encyclopedia safer for web users under internet censorship laws.
The service offers visitors additional privacy protection on the dark web.
Muffett confirmed that Wikimedia is not involved in any way with the project. It is, therefore, mostly unofficial.
Users can access it using the Tor browser, which is an open-source anonymity tool that routes user connection through thousands of nodes around the globe to obfuscate IP addresses on the dark web.
Tor users can still access the mainstream version of Wikipedia since the browser allows for normal web access.
However, this type of access has a significant problem for those trying to ensure complete privacy. In order to access the normal version of the site, user traffic has to exit the Tor network.
This leaves the traffic vulnerable to online surveillance as the traffic becomes unencrypted.
Muffett’s project is an onion service on the dark web. This means that user traffic does not exit the private and encrypted Tor network. Using Muffett’s service, a web user will be able to stay completely hidden.
Muffett has indicated that the onion site offers users discretion and trust. He affirmed that with Tor, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot view the sites and content that their clients are browsing.
He also stated that given the nature of onion addressing, users are assured that they are visiting the actual sites they request in and outside of the dark web.
According to Muffett, the code for the service is free, and users are allowed to run, change and distribute it. Since the dark web site is unofficial and experimental, it may be slightly sluggish and unresponsive for the time being.
The onion service utilizes self-signed certificates. These certificates can set off a security warning in the Tor browser.
For this reason, users have no choice but to whitelist the addresses manually. This process takes several minutes.
Muffett stated that he sought to demonstrate an abstract concept to web users. During his time at Facebook, Muffett developed and launched an onion service for the social media site back in 2014.
He then developed the Enterprise Onion Toolkit (EOTK), an open-source tool used to build onion sites on the dark web. The New York Times later utilized Muffett’s tool to develop their own dark web service.
It is safe to say that Muffett is well versed with his tools of the trade. He hoped that Wikimedia utilizes his code or develops its own solution for the same purpose. He had demonstrated the concept that EOTK offers a cost-effective method for providing proof of concept.
Muffett added that he would run the experimental Wikipedia dark web onion service for a few days. The service is read-only. This is because editing the site over the Tor network is blocked in order to curtail online trolls.
As it currently stands, the onion site is understandably not up to standards in terms of usability.
Wikipedia will have to officially take on the project for this to be possible. The platform’s community has discussed the possibility of having a dark web version of the website for some time now. It may be only a matter of time before this becomes a reality.
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