There are good reasons to want to evade surveillance by using the TOR network on the Internet.
And there are good reasons to make it easier for others to use it.
The network hides the data exchange between certain computers – like a tunnel system with many inputs and outputs.
Control bodies only see that a user who can be assigned an IP address enters the TOR network.
At which point he leaves the network again, which address he then calls up, and what he then does, cannot be understood.
Even if the destination address has been publicly blocked in a country, it remains accessible via TOR because the network bypasses the restrictions of individual countries.
It is understandable that during the protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran, who died in police custody, many Iranian demonstrators communicated and informed themselves via TOR on the Internet.
It is also not surprising that the repressive mullahs' regime in Tehran not only blocks access to social networks and independent sources of information on the Internet, but also access to the TOR network in such a situation, as the protest spreads to the whole country or disabled.
This has been common practice in Iran for years.
TOR supporters responded to such blocking by placing in front of the entrances to the network a series of connection stations, feeders into the tunnels, numerous and variable, which cannot be identified and blocked.
With just a few clicks, any Internet user can turn their computer into such a connecting station, called a "proxy".
Three programmers published the basis for this in January 2016 under the name "Snowflake".
The code has been available since 2019 as an add-on for the popular Firefox and Chrome browsers: Anyone who installs it turns their computer into a proxy as long as the browser is connected to the Internet.
The IP addresses of the many thousands of proxies in the network are not publicly visible.
If you want to reach TOR in this way, you will be assigned a proxy.
A small counter shows the voluntary supporters how many users their own proxy has enabled access to in the past 24 hours.
Concerns that the function could slow down your own access to the Internet have not been confirmed.
Four horsemen against the TOR support
They called the program Snowflake, explains its inventor Serene, because it requires “a large number of ephemeral, short-lived, voluntary proxies” like snowflakes.
They are only active as long as the user is on the Internet with the add-on turned on.
When censorship in Russia tightened again after the attack on Ukraine, the number of accesses from these countries grew.
From Iran, they are said to have tripled compared to the beginning of the month.
There are good reasons to make this use easier for others – and it is easy.
The fact that no one can see who specifically gains access to the TOR network in this way has its good side.
However, even the voluntary operators of these proxies cannot rule out that users who are not looking for uncensored access to independent information in Iran, Russia or Belarus, but are browsing the dark web for other reasons, use this access.
Online crime has its biotope here.
This is also something to consider when installing “Snowflake” as an add-on in your browser and turning your computer into a proxy.
Timothy C. May's mocking description of the "four horsemen of the infocalypse" that politicians and the media have repeatedly invoked against the claim to encryption technology is more than thirty years old.
As early as 1988, in his popular FAQ list for the Cypherpunk movement, which campaigns for data protection on the Internet, May named pedophiles, drug dealers, terrorists and money launderers as the most frequently cited groups of criminals, who allegedly could only be prosecuted if data traffic was visible to the police.
These groups come up again and again in the discussion about TOR, the Darknet or data retention.
That too has a reason.