Law in the Internet Society

My Experience with Tor: Recognizing the Potential Benefit

-- By MariahGenis - 21 Dec 2017


The average American spends around 200 minutes using the internet per day. Most of that time is spent in the visible web, which consists of websites indexed by standard, widely-used, search engines like Google and Yahoo. What most people think of and commonly refer to as “the internet” or “the web” is really just the surface. In 2014 the portion of the web used by mainstream society made up less than 1% of the world wide web, with the vast majority of the web hidden from public view. The remainder of the web, referred to as the “deep web,” is not indexed and thus can’t be accessed using mainstream search engines and browsers. Most of the deep web may be accessed by any protocol that uses non-indexed web links, but in order to access “.onion” sites one needs to use a Tor browser or a web based service that acts as a gateway or proxy to connect with the onion service.

The Onion Service

.onion is a domain suffix (like .com or .net) designating an anonymous site reachable through The Onion Routing (TOR) network. Addresses are automatically generated 16-character hashes based on the public key of a site when it is configured. Sites can only be accessed through the onion service. The Onion Service or Router was created by the US Navy to enable the military and government agencies to communicate classified material. The service anonymizes communication by encrypting the material in layers, multiple times, and then sending it through a circuit of relays. The information is decrypted a layer at a time and the routing of the communication is partially concealed at every relay on the circuit. TOR focuses on protecting the transportation of data and enables users to browse the web and communicate through the web anonymously.


The TOR browser is free, runs on all major operating systems, and offers a number of advantages to users.. The browser provides security by routing through relay servers, provides anonymity, hides a user’s IP address, and allows users to circumvent censorship.


There are a few disadvantages to TOR. Using the browser may reduce bandwidth speed. TOR does not encrypt traffic and may use apps that are not protected. The browsing experience offered by TOR is completely different from mainstream browsers.

My Experience

I consider myself to be a standard user with a basic understanding of the internet and what it has to offer. Principally motivated by curiosity, I downloaded and used TOR . The first thing I did after installing TOR was search for the Hidden Wiki. The wikipedia available on mainstream browsers is a free online encyclopedia written collaboratively by users. The Hidden Wiki is an onion site (must be accessed through TOR or web-based service as mentioned above) that serves as a directory of working websites and provides links to other onion sites.

Using the Hidden Wiki

I tend to use the internet when I am looking for something specific (a website, product, or content) and type whatever I am looking for into a search engine to find a way to access it. I downloaded TOR because I wanted to see what else was out there and I did not have anything specific I wanted to search for. I thought that the Hidden Wiki (a database with an intriguing name) would be a good place to start. Again I had no terms to search, so I looked through the Contents sidebar and found a list of interesting topics ranging from financial services to whistleblowing to erotica. I browsed some commercial sites to see the inventory and was surprised to find not only illicit goods available for purchase but illicit services as well.


I realized I was getting caught in the dark web and decided to find a research guide for the deep web. I thought that most of the information accessible via TOR would be related to illicit goods and services, but was unwilling to accept the premise that the vast majority of the content of the internet is inappropriate or unlawful. I searched “research guide for deep web” and learned that I can use my TOR browser to access information that would not come up in a standard Google search. The deep web contains databases that are too large for search engines to index, password-protected and members-only sites, timed access pages, digital media content that is blocked, and portals and directories with links to information about a topic. TOR also provides superior access to databases that are indexed. A standard search may lead someone to a database but generally can’t search the content of the database.

Potential Educational Benefit

After realizing the level of information available in the deep web I cannot comprehend why educational institutions are not encouraging teachers or students to use technology that is widely available. Throughout my education I have been forced to sit through hours of lessons and tutorials on how to maximize efficiency when conducting research and how to use different types of databases. My research has been limited to the databases my academic institutions have chosen to subscribe to and librarians have spent an excessive amount of time trying to explain how the information within such databases is organized. Instead, academic institutions could have embraced the deep web as a fantastic resource for information and promoted the use of TOR to find portals or directories of specialized information. Open access journals, ebook collections, old webpages, collections of film, audio, and music, and records from all over the world can be found through TOR. Educators should be learning, and then teaching their students, how to use these resources to improve the speed and quality of their research.

Reference Materials:

In writing for the web, why make a pile of URLs here? Why not use them as actual links?

You ask why libraries and schools don't treat as useful research resources sites on the dark web that require use of TOR to access. Rather than making that a rhetorical question, why not take it seriously? Such hidden services are associated with illegality, as you yourself show. They are regarded as more likely to be engaged in infringing activities. What should the ethics of researching, teaching and compiling be with respect to such sources? If institutions such as NSA and less scrupulous national listeners classify TOR users as "extremists" (which NSA does), to what extent should information professionals teach other people to rely on them?

I'm not asking rhetorical questions either. I have my own opinions, but I can see why mine, as well as yours, would benefit from being subjected to some systematic critical scrutiny, no matter the condition in which they emerge.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r2 - 31 Mar 2018 - 16:22:45 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM