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[tor-talk] Tor Weekly News — February 11th, 2015
Tor Weekly News February 11th, 2015
Welcome to the sixth issue in 2015 of Tor Weekly News, the weekly
newsletter that covers what’s happening in the community around Tor,
“your online an-onionising software” .
The 2015 Tor UX Sprint
Many open-source privacy tools struggle with questions of usability: so
much effort goes into ensuring they are secure that few resources are
left over to work on the user experience. But as Linda Lee and David
Fifield write , “usability is critical to security”: user interface
issues “can degrade user experience, cause confusion, or even cause
people to accidentally deanonymize themselves”.
To explore, and hopefully solve, some of these problems, a group of Tor
developers, designers, users, and researchers met  at UC Berkeley at
the start of the month. As part of the weekend, users were asked to walk
through the process of installing and running Tor Browser, noting aloud
their assumptions and reactions as they went.
Issues and “stopping points” (where users find the process too difficult
to continue) discovered during these sessions were noted, and have been
assigned tickets on Tor’s bug tracker . For more details of the event
and its outcomes, please see Linda and David’s post; “if you are
interested in helping to improve the usability of Tor Browser, get in
touch by email or IRC”.
Tor and the Library Freedom Project
As Tor Weekly News reported last September , Massachusetts librarian
and activist Alison Macrina has been leading a campaign to educate
colleagues and library patrons on the state of digital surveillance and
the use of privacy-preserving software such as Tor and Tails. As Alison
and April Glaser wrote at the time, “libraries provide access to
information and protect patrons’ right to explore new ideas, no matter
how controversial or subversive” .
These initial workshops formed the basis for the Library Freedom
Project , which has just received  a grant from the Knight
Foundation to expand its activities beyond the New England region. In a
guest post on the Tor blog , Alison introduced the project, the
motivations behind it, and its plans for the next few years, as well as
suggesting some possible areas for collaboration with the Tor community
in the future: “One specific way that librarians can help the Tor
Project is with usability issues – we have lots of experience helping
ordinary users with common usability problems […] Librarians can also
run dev sprints, help update documentation, and generally advocate for
tools that help safeguard privacy and anonymity.”
For more information on the Library Freedom Project, or to propose your
own ideas, please see the project’s website. Thanks to Alison and
colleagues for this important work!
Vidalia laid to rest
Now that Vidalia, the graphical user interface for Tor, has been
completely unmaintained ”for too long to be a recommended solution”,
Sebastian Hahn has removed  the last links to Vidalia-related
content from the Tor Project website. If you are still using a version
of Tor Browser (outside of Tails) that contains Vidalia, it is almost
certainly too old to be safe, so please upgrade as soon as possible.
Vidalia is still shipped in the latest version of Tails, however, so the
Tails team has been working  on a simple interface  to replace
one of the most-missed features of the defunct program, the circuit
visualization window. The Tor Browser team have already implemented a
similar per-site circuit diagram  in the current 4.5-alpha series,
so there should soon be no reason at all for users to continue
controlling their Tor through Vidalia.
More monthly status reports for January 2015
The wave of regular monthly reports from Tor project members for the
month of January continued, with reports from George Kadianakis ,
Pearl Crescent , Michael Schloh von Bennewitz , Nick
Mathewson , Karsten Loesing , and Arlo Breault .
Mike Perry reported on behalf of the Tor Browser team , and George
Kadianakis sent out the report for SponsorR .
George Kadianakis linked  to the technical report produced by the
team working on statistics related to the amount of hidden service usage
on the Tor network; Karsten Loesing added  some more information
regarding the fraction of network activity this represents. These are
advanced calculations, so if you’re not experienced in data science but
want to know more about this topic, the team will be back shortly with a
more “casual-reader-friendly” analysis of the results.
“Fresh off a round of real-world intensive testing and debugging using
spotty 2.5G coverage in the foothills of the Himalayas”, Nathan Freitas
of the ever-intrepid Guardian Project announced  the first release
candidate for version 14.1 of ChatSecure, the “most private” messaging
client for Android and iOS, featuring numerous improvements to
usability, stability, and network handling. Please see Nathan’s
announcement for the full changelog.
Nathan also shared  a “very early” incarnation of PLUTO, “a
simplified means for developers to include traffic obfuscation
capabilities into their applications” with initial support for obfs4 and
meek. “We think many apps could utilize this approach to defeat DPI
filtering, and that this would be useful to offer decoupled from the way
Tor integrates it”.
David Fifield posted a tutorial  for configuring the meek pluggable
transport to work with hard-to-block HTTPS websites interested in
helping censored Tor users, rather than the large content delivery
networks it currently uses, along with the regular summary  of the
costs incurred by meek’s infrastructure last month: “meek has so far
been a smashing success. It’s the #2 pluggable transport behind obfs3
and it moved over 5 TB of traffic last month. But the costs are starting
to get serious.” If you have ideas for supporting this vitally important
anti-censorship tool, please see David’s message for more details.
Also in meek news, Across The Great FireWall published  a
Chinese-language introduction to the concepts underpinning this
pluggable transport. Other resources (in Chinese and other languages)
are listed on the wiki .
Nick Mathewson took to the Tor blog  to explain exactly what Tor
design proposals are for and how they are written, and offered status
updates (and review recommendations)  for some new and still-open
Nick also asked  relay operators to contribute their advice to a
relay hardening guide  that could be shipped with Tor.
Arturo Filastò asked for help  in coming up with a roadmap for the
future of the Open Observatory of Network Interference, asking for
opinions on a range of possible development, deployment, and research
projects. Feel free to let the ooni-dev list know which of the ideas
catches your attention.
After soliciting feedback  on including newer pluggable transports
in Tails, the Tails team decided  to focus on obfs4 and then
(“tentatively”) meek for upcoming versions of the anonymous live
Tom “TvdW” van der Woerdt wrote a detailed report  on his experience
implementing a Tor client from scratch in the Go programming language,
following Tor’s specification document. One instance of “GoTor” briefly
broke the Tor relay speed record with 250 megabytes/second, but Tom
ultimately decided that Go isn’t the right language for such a thing, as
its library support doesn’t make it easy enough to do. Thanks to Tom for
running the experiment, and catching some specification errors in the
Even though Tor Browser is not vulnerable to the recent WebRTC IP attack
proof-of-concept , Mike Perry nevertheless invited  “interested
parties to try harder to bypass Tor in a stock Firefox using WebRTC and
associated protocols (RTSP, SCTP) with media.peerconnection.enabled set
to false”, before a plan to enable WebRTC-based QRCode bridge address
resolution and sharing in Tor Launcher  is implemented.
Shadow, the tool by Rob Jansen that allows full Tor network simulation,
now has a new website . As Rob wrote : “The new website still
uses the Jekyll engine, and is a stripped down customized version of the
open source SOLID theme. Please send me feedback if you have it.”
Jillian York of the EFF discussed  the problems of over-reliance on
US government funding — and the dearth of other funding streams — for
anti-surveillance tools, including Tor.
Seven of the eleven activists arrested last year in Spain for, amongst
other things, having had email accounts with the technical collective
Riseup — longtime Tor allies and operators of one of the directory
authorities  — have been released from prison . As Riseup
wrote  following the arrests, “security is not a crime”: “Giving up
your basic right to privacy for fear of being flagged as a terrorist is
Easy development tasks to get involved with
Two problems confronting Mac users who want to download Tor Browser are
the “disk image” format and Apple’s Gatekeeper security system. If these
users try to run Tor Browser directly from the disk image window that
opens after downloading, they will receive an error telling them
“Firefox is already running”, and if they correctly move the program to
the Applications folder, Gatekeeper will prevent them from running it
If you have access to a machine running the latest version of Mac OS X,
and want to spend ten minutes making life easier for Tor users, the Tor
Browser download page  would benefit from screenshots showing users
how to drag the program to the Applications folder, and how to disable
Gatekeeper by control-clicking on the Tor Browser icon when running for
the first time. Please see the relevant bug ticket  for a nice set
of example screenshots; your contribution will be gratefully received!
Feb 11 13:30 UTC | little-t tor development meeting
| #tor-dev, irc.oftc.net
Feb 11 16:00 UTC | Pluggable transports meeting
| #tor-dev, irc.oftc.net
Feb 16 18:00 UTC | Tor Browser online meeting
| #tor-dev, irc.oftc.net
Feb 16 18:00 UTC | OONI development meeting
| #ooni, irc.oftc.net
Feb 17 18:00 UTC | little-t tor patch workshop
| #tor-dev, irc.oftc.net
Mar 01 - 06 | Tor Winter Dev Meeting 2015
| Valencia, Spain
Mar 24 - 25 | Roger and Jake @ RightsCon 2015
| Manila, Philippines
This issue of Tor Weekly News has been assembled by Harmony, Roger
Dingledine, Kate Krauss, and David Fifield.
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