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Wednesday, 02 December 2020 08:21

Study finds only small number of Tor users have malicious intent

Study finds only small number of Tor users have malicious intent Courtesy The Tor Project

Researchers from the US and the UK have found that only a small fraction of those who use the Tor browser — which can access sites on the so-called dark web — are likely to do so for malicious purposes.

Eric Jardine from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia; Andrew Lindner from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York; and Gareth Owenson, from the firm Cyber Espion in Portsmouth, UK, said in a paper published on 30 November that this percentage of users was clustered unevenly across countries.

They found that the more potentially malicious Tor users (7.8%) were from so-called free countries while the figure (4.8%) was lower for so-called not free regimes.

"These results suggest that the countries which host most of the infrastructure of the network and house the Tor Project plausibly experience a disproportional amount of harm from the Tor anonymity network," the trio said.

The study was conducted by running 1% of entry or guard nodes on the Tor network from 31 December 2018 to 18 August 2019. Data collection was interrupted from 4 May 2019 to 13 May 2019.

"Tor clients (users) randomly choose an entry node from the set of available nodes in the network (weighted by available bandwidth)," Jardine, Lindner and Owenson wrote,

tor data

"By running 1% of guard nodes, we observe a random sample of all Tor relay users, although our data does not include those who employ Tor bridges to access the network.

"By analysing unique signatures in the traffic (for example, directory look-ups), we can distinguish whether clients are using Tor to visit either the clear web (e.g., or a Tor Onion/Hidden Service (e.g., xyz.onion).

"This process does not reveal anything about the precise content a user is querying. Additionally, we geolocate the user’s incoming IP address to a country of origin and aggregate these data into a count of all Tor network users per country per day and a count of Onion/Hidden Services users per country per day."

The trio said they then merged the aggregate Tor network data "with measures of country-level political freedom, taken from both Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World reports and the 'PolityV Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions' dataset; the most recent available country-level indicators for wealth, Internet penetration, and population size from the World Bank; and an estimate of per capita darknet cryptomarket activity at a country level in the years immediately preceding our study period".

The Tor Project has been contacted for comment.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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