Tor Network vs. Russia – The Battle for the Free Internet

Russia’s attempts to block the Tor network have so far been unsuccessful. Read how Tor is fighting back here.

Russia has been trying since December 2021 to block the Tor network. But this one knows how to defend itself. A cat and mouse game for the freedom of the Internet.

Russia is stepping up its censorship efforts

For years, the Tor network has been regarded as the safest way to stay anonymous on the internet and bypass censorship measures. To do this, Tor encrypts traffic and transfers it through a series of nodes so that the connection cannot be traced. For authoritarian governments, however, this technology is often a threat, which is why Russia has recently stepped up its efforts to block the Tor network.

The Russian Media Regulatory Authority issued a court order in December 2021 that can order Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to Block websites and limit Tor network services. Of course, this met with resistance: Tor users have since been pushing to keep the Tor network online in order to give people in Russia access to the uncensored Internet.

Since the infrastructure in Russia is relatively decentralized, blockades are far less effective than in China, for example, which has a more centralized infrastructure. Although the ISPs in Russia receive blocking orders, their implementation is within the power of the individual companies. As a result, the Tor network is blocked for some people and not for others. Even if they live in the same city.

The Tor network strikes back

According to Gustavo Gus, dem Leaders of the Tor project’s community team, Russian officials have adjusted their tactics. But the Tor project’s anti-censorship engineers are taking a stand. Updates have so far successfully prevented the Tor network from being blocked in Russia. “The fight isn’t over yet

” says Gus. “People can connect to Tor. People can easily bypass censorship.

According to data collected by Tor, the number of people connected to the Tor network in Russia is in connected, greatly decreased. The connection to Tor is still possible thanks to the anti-censorship tool Snowflake and volunteer bridges. The use of these measures is also gaining popularity, as shown by externally collected data.

According to Gus, there have been two major incidents against Tors Snowflake. The first one in December was fixed within 10 days. For the second, in May of this year, there was also a patch shortly after its discovery. Much of the censorship effort coming out of Russia, according to Gus, is done by hand. He believes some officers download Tor and set up bridges themselves, then block access.

The latest version 11.5 of Tor Browser introduces a new feature. Through these, the program attempts to bypass censorship automatically based on the user’s location. Users who are still blocked in Russia can also report it so that the team behind the Tor project can take appropriate action. Distributing Tor bridge details via Telegram has proven to be very effective so far. Tor is therefore planning to distribute them via other messengers such as Signal and WhatsApp in the future.

It is also worth keeping your Tor browser up to date, even apart from new functions. Because updates always close critical security gaps.

Censorship of the Tor network is also on the rise in Ukraine

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has introduced several new laws to control the Internet. “Russia is trying to eliminate possible sources of truthful alternative information about the war and what is going on internally in Russia“, says Natalia Krapiva, technical legal advisor of the NGO Access Now.

Even in some areas of occupied Ukraine, Russia is already enforcing its censorship. For example, in the city of Kherson, all Internet connections are rerouted via Russian networks. Thus, the censorship and surveillance measures active in Russia automatically take effect there.

An ongoing struggle on the legal level as well

According to Sarkis Darbinyan, head of the legal practice of the Russian digital rights group Roskomsvoboda, since the invasion of Ukraine more than 5500 websites have been blocked in Russia. “In order to provide Russian users with access to truthful information, it is now important to have tools like VPN and Tor that allow people to quickly and effectively restore their violated rights,” says Darbinyan.

Roskomsvoboda represents Tor in its legal cases against Russian authorities. Roskomnadzor’s December decision to block the Tor network has been overturned due to procedural errors. But there are other court cases that are still ongoing. So the fight goes on.

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