As concerns about Internet privacy (or the lack thereof) continue to increase—and as users worry about the ability of governments, criminals and businesses to spy on their Internet usage—more attention is being given to tools that are designed to help users surf the Web anonymously.
The leading method for anonymous Web surfing is currently the Tor Network (which I discussed recently in my Tech Directions column "Web surfers anonymous," which can be found at eweek.com).
Tor works through a technique called onion routing, which uses numerous routers through which communications will pass. As data passes through points on the Tor Network, each point knows only where the data is going and where it came from. As the network grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to trace a connections origin.
eWeek Labs has been impressed with the functionality of Tor-based tools such as Vidalia, which helps users set up Tor servers and also allows users to start and stop Tor, easily view the status of Tor, and monitor Tors bandwidth usage. However, these tools require full system installs and lack portability.
However, a recently released tool makes it very simple to get up and running quickly with a secure and anonymous Web connection. The free Torpark is a Firefox-based browser that automatically connects to the Tor Network and lets users surf anonymously with a minimum of fuss.
Even more impressive, Torpark, which runs straight from an executable and requires no installation routine, can be run directly from a USB drive. This means users can carry a privacy-enabled browser with them wherever they go. (No data is stored on the drive; only the app itself.)
Torpark is the latest anonymity tool to come from the group Hacktivismo and follows in the footsteps of ScatterChat, a Tor Network-based instant messaging client.
We ran Torpark directly from one of our test Microsoft Windows-based systems and from both newer and older USB drives.
Running from the Windows system, Torpark ran fairly smoothly and was just a bit slower than a normal Firefox session would be. However, when we ran it from a USB drive, it was more like returning to the days of dial-up modems, with considerable wait times for many Web pages. Still, there are benefits to running Torpark from a USB drive, especially since no records of the surfing session are left behind on the computer.
For the most part, a Torpark browsing session is like any other. The browser comes preconfigured with several Firefox privacy and security extensions, including Adblock. It also includes a flush Tor circuit button, which drops your current circuit and adds a new one, as well as a button to quickly turn Tor Network-based anonymous browsing on and off.
A savvy Firefox user could probably build an equivalent to Torpark using extensions and other tools, but Torpark will be useful for those who need an easy way to surf the Web anonymously, or those who just cant be bothered to build such a tool themselves. One drawback is that Torpark is currently available only on Windows systems.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.