Tor hints at Firefox integration

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

October 3, 2014

In a move that if properly implemented is likely to give the NSA a seizure, Tor executive director Andrew Lewman has strongly hinted to the Daily Dot that anonymity network Tor is in talks with Mozilla over adding a Tor ‘private browsing mode’ to its popular (and our personal favorite) open source web browser, FireFox.

Discussing Tor’s plans to increase its user base to a ‘global population’, Lewman said that it was in talks with several major tech firms, which would allow it to potentially reach over 500 million users. Although naming no names, Lewman talked about one company in particular, who want to include Tor in its mainstream browser,

They very much like Tor Browser and would like to ship it to their customer base. Their product is 10-20 percent of the global market, this is of roughly 2.8 billion global Internet users.

According to Wikipedia, Firefox ‘has between 12% and 22% of worldwide usage.’ Crunching the figures, the Daily Dot notes this means between 280 million to 560 million people, and while only a fraction of these would make use of a ‘private browsing mode’ feature, that still adds up to a lot of new Tor users!

Mozilla and Tor have so far refused to comment on whether Firefox is the browser under discussion, although a Tor spokesperson did contact the Daily Dot to speak of their ‘long standing relationship’,

Mozilla and the Tor Project share many of the same values and goals, such as building user trust in the Web and giving users more capabilities to navigate the Web on their own terms. We have a long-standing relationship with the Tor Project and regularly discuss ways we might collaborate to strengthen the open Web and deliver a better browsing experience for Firefox users, but have no specific projects to share at this time.

The Daily Dot has also updated its article to note that,

A pair of tweets posted earlier this year by Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich confirms that his organization has been in talks with the Tor Project over potential Firefox integration.

Although this is exciting news (if true), and will hopefully give the NSA a headache just thinking about it, the challenges such a project will face are considerable. As it is, one of the biggest weaknesses of Tor is that users do understand how to use it properly, or what the risks and limitations of Tor are.

By expanding its user base so dramatically, especially to ‘casual’ users with little technical expertise, there is a very real danger of users gaining a false sense of security which could put them at considerable risk. Numerous technical issues relating to ensuring users privacy and anonymity also remain.

Nevertheless, if a secure and ‘idiot proof’ ‘tor button’ can added to Firefox, it will represent a strong victory for ordinary internet users, giving them a powerful tool for protecting their privacy and taking control of the internet away from governments. We therefore hope the rumor is true, and that Tor and Firefox can pull it off…

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

2 responses to “Tor hints at Firefox integration

  1. I have been a victim of hackers and identity theft in the past – mostly due to other companies being hacked and gaining relevant information required to reset passwords. I can tell everyone from experience that this was extremely stressful and far from easy to deal with. I defy anyone to get hold of a real person or a form that accepts more than a Twitter style response to a problem you have with an account that has been stolen….

    Initially I belonged to the camp “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about”. How wrong could I be!!

    Your online personal identity can be used to access email accounts, in turn social network accounts, cloud services, bank accounts….. The day I fully realised the extent at which I had been hacked made me physically sick. The thought that your bank has just authorised a payment for something you never bought sends chills down my spine even now.

    When people suddenly realise the dangers that they are exposing themselves to, their first reaction is to try and beef up their security – it was certainly a wake up call for me.

    Half the problem is the more you try to take secure steps to anonymise / mitigate attacks and hacks the more you start to look like a criminal trying to cover your tracks, when in reality you’re just trying to be extremely careful online.

    TOR falls into this bracket immediately. Merely visiting a TOR website will place you on a list of potential “suspects”. This is wrong! I have personally been scanned by a large search engine for vulnerability assessments and also attempted web cam activation at the same time which was triggered by searching for certain key phrases related to anonymity. (You can check the IP addresses in your Firewall and associated ports for the software they are using).

    It’s not just criminals that use anonymising techniques – it’s victims of online crime and we should start to acknowledge this. Ironically by using TOR you will draw more attention to yourself because of this and so I tend to shy away from using it. Instead I opt for a half way house by encrypting the DNS traffic to make it difficult to log the web sites I visit but without encrypting the traffic so that the authorities can see I am law abiding. (Albeit a jumbled up mess).

    I think, globally, we have lost sight of personal privacy and the idea that all users of anonymising software are criminals is not correct. We seem to have this duality of it’s okay to condemn someone online before checking the facts but would never dream of doing this in the real world. I mean if the Post Office opened your letters you would be outraged but it’s okay to read emails online. Where is the sense in that?

    In my opinion making TOR more accessible to ordinary users who maybe don’t want everyone know that they have an embarrassing ailment or confidential company information or just don’t like being spied on all the time would be a good thing.

    Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not against the authorities using surveillance techniques. However, I am against drag net surveillance with no reasonable grounds to do so. Surely we are all innocent until we are proved guilty?

    Giving ordinary users the ability to use TOR will start to re-address the imbalance that our security services have started to get used to with lazy surveillance techniques. What was wrong with good old fashioned surveillance with reasonable grounds to do so? Or is it too much hassle to have a court of law involved these days?


  2. The bigger Tor becomes, the harder it is to track an individual user through the noise. The method the FBI claims to have used to find someone on Tor (I say “claims” as it appears to be a cover for more nefarious activities that they do not want brought to light) becomes infeasible.

    Maybe I’ll make that final move over to Firefox if this becomes a reality.

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