EFF calls on universities to setup more Tor relays

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has issued a call for universities to setup nodes for the privacy focussed Tor project.
  • Universities often have more robust connections to the internet, making them perfect to host Tor relays.
  • After running a Tor relay for a year, the EFF will send hosts a Challenge Coin as a gift for contributing to the Tor Project.

Tor, the project that lets folks access the dark web and maintain their privacy issued a challenge this week in a bid to make the Tor network a bit more resilient.

As you may be aware, Tor is an acronym for The Onion Routing. This is also a simple way to explain how the browser works. When you request a website that request is wrapped up in layers of security, as you go through nodes, these layers are pealed back until eventually your destination is reached. This helps to insure that folks aren’t following you around the web.

As you might glean from this, relays need to exist to keep the network functional and to that end the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) wants to drum up more relays for the network.

The Tor University Challenge, as it’s known, asks university staffers and students to campaign to have a Tor relay setup at their institution.

“Tor protects your identity by hiding the source and destination of your internet traffic, which helps prevent anyone from knowing who you are or what you’re looking at. Tor does this by routing your web traffic through ‘relays,’ which, like the name implies, receive the traffic and pass it along to the next relay. Anyone can run a Tor relay on just about any computer, but because relays need a lot of bandwidth, it’s not always easy (or possible) to do so,” explains the EFF.

Universities, however, have an easier time of meeting the requirements the Tor project needs to keep running and as such, EFF calls on these institutions to setup relays.

A number of universities have already responded to the call and are running relays including Boston University, University of Cambridge, and University College London among many others. Instructions for how to setup a relay or even how to ask for a relay to be setup, can be found at this link.

There are roughly 7 000 relays and 2 000 bridges keeping the Tor network running by the EFF’s count. It’s important to remember that all of this infrastructure is donated freely by users and institutions that simply believe that anonymity online is a right we should all have access to.

“Journalists, political and social activists, attorneys, businesspeople, and other users all over the world rely on Tor for unfettered, unmonitored access to knowledge and communications,” Cooper Quintin, EFF senior staff technologist said in a press release.

“Anonymous speech always has been a pillar of democratic society, letting us discuss anything without fear of retribution. And facilitating this discussion can be a great educational opportunity for students and faculty alike,” Quintin added.

Can the Tor network be used for nefarious purposes?

Of course, just like everything else, bad people can use the same tools the good people of the world use, only to do bad things. However, the Tor network has helped millions around the world since it came into being. The network was used during the Arab Spring in 2010, Edward Snowden used it to blow the whistle on mass surveillance by the US government and millions use it everyday to escape draconian censorship in their country.

Those that setup Tor relays can email EFF which will send you a challenge coin after the relay has been running for a year. The real prize, however, is helping those living under oppressive regimes access or relay the information they need without fear of punishment.


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