It is clear that the threat posed by government surveillance is on the agenda even for the creators of the world’s most popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
Former Wikimedia Vice President Cristian Consonni voiced this particular concern recently when he proposed the creation of a dark web version of Wikipedia, as a Tor hidden service accessible only via the Tor network.
The online encyclopedia, which has not yet launched its dark web version, can still be accessed via the Tor browser albeit via avenues that are considerably less secure than a dedicated hidden service site would be.
Tor’s popularity among activists and people living in countries with heavy internet censorship is irrefutably attributed to its ability to hide web traffic and route it through several IP addresses known as nodes.
However, the encryption tool has attracted bad publicity on several occasions for its use as a fundamental security tool for cyber criminals on the dark web.
Exit Nodes Are Notoriously Vulnerable
Currently, users of Tor can only access Wikipedia using IP addresses known as “exit nodes,” which serve as intermediary points where the traffic from the dark web is routed to the clear web.
Predictably, the nodes are considered highly vulnerable to spying, with several incidences pointing to their overall unreliability when it comes to protecting the identities of dark web users.
Consonni’s proposal, which was first posted on a listserv known as Wikimedia-L, highlighted all the drawbacks of the method currently used by dark web users to access Wikipedia with a strong emphasis on the significant security risks it came with.
Proposal Elicited Mixed Reactions
While several renowned Wikipedians such as the likes of David Cuenca Tudela were in favor of the idea, there was strong opposition from a number of similarly prominent editors of the encyclopedia.
The opposition was heavily focused on one particular detail: allowing Tor users to edit articles posted on the encyclopedia.
The editing of Wikipedia pages via Tor is not permitted at the moment because there’s no way to ban transgressors who do not abide by the rules since they’re using an IP address-switching tool.
The opposition argues that it would be impossible to censor the posted content, leaving the online encyclopedia open to a well-known vector of abuse.
Wikipedia Dark Web Site to Enhance Tor’s Reputation
Tor’s reputation has suffered significantly over the past few years. Its repeated involvement in illicit activities on the dark web is inevitable, since these hidden sites can only be accessed via the Tor network.
Time and time again, the hidden network has been unfairly linked to criminal activity and this has had a profoundly negative impact on its public reception.
Consonni believes that adding Wikipedia to the list of mainstream sites with a dark web doppelganger will make it a useful resource for people in countries with strict internet censorship policies and hopefully shadow its bad rap as a tool predominantly used to commit crimes online.
Citizens of countries such as Russia, China and Iran, to mention a few, will greatly benefit from this since their governments have already restricted access to a significant number of Wikipedia entries.
Surprisingly, countries such as France and even the United Kingdom have also censored a few sections of the online encyclopedia in the recent past.
All Websites Should Have a Dark Web Version
Consonni believes that mainstream websites should also have a dark web version, not just as a way to circumvent government surveillance but also to raise awareness of Tor as an expedient tool.
Thanks to recent innovations that have served to streamline the creation of dark web services, Consonni doesn’t expect the process to be too difficult.
He, however, hopes that it is endorsed by the same nonprofit organization that runs Wikipedia, since third-party organizations may not be as reliable. So far, the Tor Project has not had anything to say about the debate.