The Future of Cyberspace Anonymity

4 minute read

Posted by: DeepDotWeb December 5, 2013

In its simplest concept, anonymity is a form of protection from the possibility of retribution or retaliation.  While major government powers and corporations see anonymity as a threat (often arguing that anonymity only serves to protect criminals), it has shielded political activists, journalists, and even investigators.  Anonymity is a tool –a tool that can be utilized for both wholesome and nefarious purposes.

That said; it is well known that there is a war against anonymity, a war that has made headlines in recent months and received global attention.  Especially agencies like the NSA seek to dismantle the individual’s ability to remain anonymous, whereas, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation seek to keep anonymity intact.  However, the issue on both sides of this conflict boils down to two simple questions:

First, ‘what are their capabilities?’

Second, ‘what are my capabilities?’

The answer to these questions will define the future of cyberspace anonymity.  It is true that no system provides bulletproof anonymity; however, there also seems to be no perfect method for agencies like the NSA to stop it, as they unwillingly admitted through their dear friend, Edward Snowden.

On the deep web, escalation, the incremental increase of capabilities on both sides, is inevitable

Tor: Needle In a Haystack

There is no foolproof method for protecting ones identity, and ultimately, retaliation against that individual.

However, the purpose of Tor never was intended to provide unbeatable protection for a single individual.  We know that the authorities are very good at finding a needle in a haystack.  What Tor does is that it guides the needle through a giant pile of identical needles –and then places it in a different haystack.  It takes a great deal of effort to discern which needle is the target, as Tor creates a gargantuan, maddening shell game for the trackers.

But even a tool like Tor can be beaten.  On their own website, they state:

“Also, to protect your anonymity, be smart. Don’t provide your name or other revealing information in web forms. Be aware that, like all anonymizing networks that are fast enough for web browsing, Tor does not provide protection against end-to-end timing attacks: If your attacker can watch the traffic coming out of your computer, and also the traffic arriving at your chosen destination, he can use statistical analysis to discover that they are part of the same circuit.”

Essentially, if agencies with vast technical capabilities wish to track down a single individual, they certainly can.  However, tools like Tor, I2P, and Freenet operate based on the premise that they simply make watching deep web traffic a very difficult, costly, and time consuming operation.

Agencies like the NSA have such capabilities; however, in comparison to the sheer numbers of anonymous users, it becomes a cost-to-benefit nightmare to track them all.  In addition, the efforts and methods of the anonymous continue to evolve.

Outlawing Needles

I had originally set out to determine how the anonymous community feels about the future of Tor, attempt to figure out if the community will use similar network alternatives if pressed, or even theorize that these tools may soon go extinct.  However, the answer appears to be something unexpected, yet obvious.

These networks are massive, the tools constantly evolve, and there appears to be growing awareness and use of anonymity.  Networks like Tor are constantly researching new and better methods of protecting their users.  In addition, even if the EFF was brought down and Tor went with it, there are other networks available, and adaptation wouldn’t take long.  This is probably why there has not been an outright push for legislation against Tor–simply because passing it would be very difficult, enforcing it would be almost impossible, and the anonymous will simply just use something else.  The effort would be pointless.

For instance, the bitcoin has been demonized for enabling illegal transactions, its absence of centralized manipulation, and of course… anonymity.  There was a recent hearing of politicians and heads of finance to discuss the bitcoin.  The conclusion? They will do nothing.  The most likely reason is that it would be almost impossible to enforce laws against cryptocurrency, as it runs on peer-to-peer transactions with no tattle-tailing middleman.  Yes, it’s traceable …but back to whom?  The same principle applies to the deep web.

The Conclusion?

It does not seem as if Tor will go away anytime soon.  It seems that the real problem for authorities is the desire for anonymity –and not the means to achieve it.

Authorities would either have to beat the anonymous community in an escalation race, outlaw anything with an internet connection, or do away with electricity altogether.

The effort would cost them far more than they’d hope to pay, and accomplish far less than they’d hoped to achieve.


Updated: 2013-12-05