Tor Project turns to Amazon

The Tor Project offers a channel for people wanting to route their online communications anonymously and this channel has been used by activists to avoid censorship as well as those seeking anonymity for more nefarious reasons. Now the people involved in this project to maintain a secret layer of the internet have turned to Amazon to add bandwidth to the service. According to some experts, the use of Amazon's cloud service will make it harder for governments to track.

Amazon's cloud service - dubbed EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) offers virtual computer capacity. The Tor developers are calling on people to sign up to the service in order to run a bridge - a vital point of the secret network through which communications are routed. According to Tor developers, by setting up a bridge, you donate bandwidth to the Tor network and help improve the safety and speed at which users can access the internet.

Some believe that cloud services could have a big impact on Tor by creating more places and better places to hide. With cloud services it will be easier to create a substantial number of bridges. Amazon is hosting millions of applications and it will be difficult for governments to distinguish between normal access to Amazon's cloud and Tor access.

The Onion Router
The Onion Router is so named because it is multi-layered with no clear center

What is Tor?

Tor is short for The Onion Router, so named because of the multi-layered nature of the way it is run and it also known as the Darknet. It has been in development since 2002 and works by separating the way communications are routed via the internet from the person sending them.

Data is sent through a complex network of 'relays' or bridges run by volunteers around the world. When someone receives data routed via Tor it appears to come from the last person in the relay rather than from the original sender. All Internet addresses are encrypted to add to anonymity.

The Tor Project has been praised for offering people living in repressive regimes an opportunity to communicate freely with others without fear of punishment. Activists have used it in Iran and Egypt but it is also used to distribute copyrighted content and studies suggest that most of the bandwidth is taken by pirated content.

Access to Tor is not limited to fixed line communications; Android users can access it via an application called Orbot and earlier this week Apple approved Covert Browser for iPad to be sold in its App Store, the first official iOS app that allows users to route their online communications through Tor.