Who Funds Tor Project May Surprise You, or Maybe Not

NEWS ANALYSIS: The U.S government is helping foot the bill for the Tor Project, even as new attacks against the anonymous network platform are disclosed.

Tor Project Funding

The open-source Tor Project provides a technology platform that helps enable user privacy on the Internet. While the effort is open-source, it does have financial backers that are helping fund development and operations.

Tor reported its 2013 financial statements on July 26, providing transparency into the costs and sources of funding for the anonymous networking technology.

In total, the Tor Project reported revenues and financial support sources totaling $3.53 million for 2013, up from $2.68 million in 2012. The bulk of the Tor Project's revenues come from grants and contributions, which totaled $1.96 million in 2013.

The largest source of contribution revenues came from U.S. federal grants, which accounted for 90 percent of Tor's 2013 revenues and 73 percent of its 2012 revenue. Among the federal grants received by the Tor Project, one is from the Department of State for $256,900 as part of a federal grant initiative for programs to support democracy, human rights and labor. The National Science Foundation contributed $100,325 to the Tor Project as part of a grant for computer and information science and engineering.

Also noteworthy about Tor's financial statements is a paragraph that identifies how much the organization spends on its office space. Tor has monthly lease payments for office space of $1,337. The number 1,337 is also known in the hacker community as "leet," which is a term meaning "elite."

It is interesting and also somewhat ironic that while certain branches of the U.S. government financially support Tor, others are actively trying to crack it. The National Security Agency (NSA) is allegedly trying to crack into Tor, according to documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden released in October of 2013.

The NSA isn't the only group actively trying to crack Tor either. The Russian government has an open bid that will award 3.9 million rubles (roughly $110,000 U.S.) to help de-anonymize Tor users.

Going a step further, on July 30, the Tor Project revealed that it had found a group of Tor relays that were trying to de-anonymize users. The attacking relays were added to the network on Jan. 30 and were removed by the project on July 4. There is some speculation that the attack is related to the Black Hat USA talk on Tor that was recently pulled from the conference.

"We spent several months trying to extract information from the researchers who were going to give the Black Hat talk, and eventually, we did get some hints from them about how 'relay early' cells could be used for traffic confirmation attacks, which is how we started looking for the attacks in the wild," Roger Dingledine, one of the original developers of Tor, stated in a Tor mailing list posting. "They haven't answered our emails lately, so we don't know for sure, but it seems likely that the answer is yes."

Regardless of who is attacking Tor, it remains an import asset for those that wish to try and achieve a degree of anonymity on the Internet. The fact that departments within the U.S. government continue to support Tor should also stand as proof positive that the U.S. has a vital and important role to play in helping to ensure the privacy of all Internet users.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.