Summary: Tor Project AMA

Thank you to all who attended and contributed to the Localization Lab’s inaugural Mattermost Ask Me Anything with the Tor Project! The event was a great success thanks to your insightful questions and the broad range of talent that the Tor Project brought to the discussion!

Want to see more AMAs with Localization Lab supported projects? Let us know who you would like to see an AMA for or if you are a project that would like to participate.

Tor Project Attendees

@arma: Roger Dingledine, the original Tor person
@tomrittervg: Tom Ritter, long-time Tor volunteer and currently working for Mozilla on Tor Browser Patch Uplift and supporting Tor Browser
@arthuredelstein: Arthur, Tor Browser developer
@mcs: Mark Smith, tor Browser developer
@phoul: Colin Childs, Tor Support and Localization Coordinator
@flexlibris: Alison, Tor Community Team Lead

Key Takeaways & Questions

Tor Resources you may have forgotten about:

Getting up to speed on Tor's past, present, and future
The ultimate Tor resource that will point you to all of the documentation and information Tor has available for users and contributors, including the Legal FAQ, Tor blog, Tor bugtracker, Tor mailing list etc.

Tor Introductory Brochure
A printable brochure intended for skeptics and individuals unfamiliar with Tor. The brochure is currently available in 11 languages, but the team would love to have it available in more. Follow the link for translation instructions.

Contact Tor:

IRC: You can find the Tor team on irc.oftc.net in one of the following channels depending on your topic:
#tor: For general Tor questions and support. For users of Tor.
#tor-project: Discussion related to events, outreach and translation.
#tor-dev: For those interested in Tor development.

Some Discussion Outcomes:

  • The Tor team will consider including up-to-date translations in nightly builds.
  • Tor Project may consider translating the Tor user manual into languages for which there are no current Tor translations.
  • Bundling languages into the Tor Browser (like Firefox) is a possibility. It does not appear to require significant resources.
  • The Tor Project and Psiphon are both interested in initiating discussions on how to improve user feedback. If you are interested in helping push forward these discussions, please contact us.
  • There is interest from Localization Lab and the Tor Project in how to build narratives for different communities surrounding using Tor. If you are interested in contributing to further discussion, please contact us.

Selected Questions:

*Note that this is only a selection of the questions asked during the AMA. A manicured version of all of the AMA questions is available on our site (We highly recommend - it's a good read!) and the full unabridged conversation is available on our Mattermost channel. Questions and Answers below have in most cases been paraphrased.

General:
 

What is the Tor support portal and how will it be structured?

phoul: “The Tor Project has historically provided support through mailing lists, irc, and we also had a proper help-desk open for a period of time. Unfortunately, this help-desk became overloaded with support requests, which made us decide to put the effort into writing a proper support portal. Currently the community team is writing content for this portal, and working on the initial stages of design.

...the support portal is largely intended to be a resource for users. We will have a way for users to provide feedback, however a direct support function through the portal may not be a feature. We would likely have users contact an email address as a last resort, rather than having an interface on the portal for chat or similar.”

How can I get more involved in the Tor community?

The first steps to getting more involved in the Tor community include joining the Tor mailing list and stopping in at the weekly Tor community meeting which takes place (nearly) every Wednesday on IRC. Connect to the #tor-project channel on irc.oftc.net for more information.

Are there any more Tor AMAs coming up?

Tune into the #tor-project channel on irc.oftc.net for information on an /r/Tor ama that is under discussion

Localization and User Feedback:
 

What is the best way to contact the Tor Team about localization issues?

The best way to contact the Tor team about localization issues is by emailing the Localization Coordinator, Colin Childs (aka @phoul). Colin is also available for direct message in our Mattermost channel.

Why isn’t the Tor website translated?

The Tor team is currently in the process of updating the Tor website and creating a Tor support portal which will serve as a resource for Tor users (as opposed to the Q&A format of the Tor StackExchange) Once the website and the support portal are finished, they will be made available for translation.

Are there any languages that you constantly struggle to have updated translations for, but are in large demand?

phoul: “For languages, I dont think there is anything we are constantly in demand of and do not have. We are very lucky to have such a wide translator coverage on Transifex.”

Are there current plans to make usability updates to Tor?

Yes, and you can get involved by joining the Tor UX team which meets once a week on IRC.

In Tor development, how important is user feedback from around the globe, and more closed societies in particular? And how can individual users safely help provide the data and feedback you need to make the Tor Network work more effectively in their communities?

flexlibris: “user feedback is hugely important, especially from places where we don't have strong community representation yet.”

You can provide feedback by communicating with the Tor team on IRC (irc.oftc.net at #tor, #tor-project, and #tor-dev) and by writing good tickets using the Tor Project’s bug tracker.

If you are from a closed society or a region facing severe censorship, it would be helpful for you to join the Tor community team to give ongoing feedback to Tor developers and help build Tor communities in your region.

Tor Censorship:
 

How is Tor being blocked in Egypt and elsewhere?

The Tor network is made up of about 7000 relays, run by volunteers around the world. If you can reach those relays, the Tor network aims to provide you security and privacy, but also alo you to circumvent censorship.

Simple censorship tools block the Tor website to keep you from downloading the Tor Browser and accessing the Tor network. If you already have the Tor Browser downloaded, this approach will not block your access to the Tor network.
More complex censorship tools try to block your access to the Tor network by blocking your connections to the 7,000 Tor relays. This can be done by blocking a list of all of the 7,000 relay addresses or by trying to block the Tor protocol and anyone who speaks it.

Even more dedicated censors do "deep packet inspection" (DPI), which recognizes Internet traffic by protocol and requires changing what the Tor network protocols look like. This is where "pluggable transports" come into play. Pluggable transports basically add another layer of encryption on top of your Tor traffic to disguise it and make it more difficult to block. The most common pluggable transport is currently “obfs4.”

While Egypt's censorship situation seems to change by the week, according to the OONI Project, DPI is being used.

How can I get around censorship of Tor in Egypt and elsewhere?

When relays are being blocked by address, Tor bridges can be used to access the Tor network. Bridges are like Tor relays, however they are not listed publically, so they are harder to block.

When opening the Tor Browser, you can choose to use one of the default bridges included in the Tor Browser or you can add custom bridges. Visit bridges.torproject.org to access bridge addresses which can be added as custom bridges in the Tor Browser.

Apparently, the default obfs4 bridges available in the Tor Browser still work in Egypt.

Can Tor bridges be blocked?

The default bridges in Tor Browser can be blocked (roughly 30 addresses). This does not often happen however. Most often only the Tor website is blocked, and then less often, “Vanilla” Tor (Tor without bridges).

If “Vanilla” Tor is blocked, first try to use the default bridges provided in the Tor Browser. If those don't work, visit bridges.torproject.org, get a few bridge addresses, and put them into the Tor Browser.

In Egypt, is censorship of the Tor website and network being done in a centralized manner or on the ISP level?
The seems the only thing universally blocked in Egypt is the Tor website. Otherwise it appears that censorship of the Tor network varies based on network and time period. Some users are able to access Vanilla Tor, while some are not.

It is possible that censorship is happening on the ISP level by government order, with each ISP using different censorship tools.

How hard would it be for Egypt to use the same DPI tools to start blocking obsf4-encrypted traffic?

arma: “actually, very few of the dpi tools can block obfs4. it's designed to be hard to recognize any headers in. so most of the censors around the world don't know how to recognize obfs4 traffic.”

Tor browser supports snowflake now. Will there be any new PT protocol like obfs5? obfs4 bridges might be blocked some day in country like China and meek is slow and expensive.

arma: “Snowflake is a great upcoming pluggable transport option. The snowflake developers seem to have slowed down though, so I don't know what their future plans are. It needs some more work to be more usable.

There are some known deficiencies in obfs4, and people have designs for an improved version. But right now nobody is developing it. There are some other groups out there, like brandon wiley, who are developing their own thing that we hope will be an improvement.”

Could Tor make it easier to use Tor Browser with circumvention tools like goagent and shadowsocks?

arma: “the tor browser people are wary of making it look like we 'endorse' one of these random third-party things

that said, i think looking at the usability side of things, and what can be changed in tor browser to make it easier for people to do it themselves, sounds really smart.”

Is it useful to run an entry node inside a country where Tor censorship occurs?

arma: “that's a complicated one. yes, in that more relays are good for building the capacity of the tor network. yes, in that maybe surveillance is only done at the country's borders, so it would be safer to use an entry node inside. no, in that maybe the surveillance is done throughout the country, in which case you're not buying yourself anything. in many countries, if they block the tor protocol well enough, running a relay inside that country will basically not work, since that relay can't reach enough other relays.

for example, a while ago mexico was blocking connections to the tor directory authorities. those are 9 or so relays that together tell the tor users what relays are available. that meant if you used a bridge, you were fine. but if you were a normal relay, and you tried to publish to the directory authorities so you'd be added to the network... your relay would be censored.”