If you’re really sneaky, you might’ve noticed that there’s a Tor relay called grumpytechie1 floating around. I’ve been operating a guard relay for the Tor Network for some time now (not an exit because quite frankly I don’t have time for all the work they generate), and I thought I’d write something about it.
If you’ve never heard about Tor, in a nutshell it’s an anonymizing service, where your traffic (TCP only at the time of writing) is encrypted 3 times and sent through 3 relays, a guard, a middle and an exit relay. Each relay receives the traffic, decrypts the outermost “layer” of encryption and reads the address of the next relay (or final destination on the public internet) and forwards it on. This stripping of encryption “layers” is the namesake of Tor, The Onion Router. This way, each relay can only know either nothing (the middle relay as it only gets packets from the guard relay and forwards it on the final relay), the sender (the guard relay knows this as it received the original packet), or the destination (the exit relay need to know this to know where to forward it). As such, you, as the user gets a level of anonymity, as no individual Tor relay knows who you’re communicating with, and any adversary along the path can’t read your traffic.
The Tor network is operated by volunteers entirely, so as you can imagine, relays are always in short supply. For Tor to function properly, there needs to be relays all over the world, and they need to be controlled by as many different persons as possible (this is what’s called network diversity).
But what’s Tor used for? Well, along with all the criminals that need to keep their shady business dealing private (Silk Road springs to mind), Tor is also used by researchers and law enforcement (when you’re investigating the C&C infrastructure of a bot-net, you hardly want to send traffic from IPs owned by Symantec for example). It’s also heavily used by people in countries where Internet access is severely limited (The Great Firewall…) or by whistleblowers to keep their identity secret.
The two latter categories of users also have a secondary problem, they rely on volunteers in other parts of the world where Internet access isn’t limited to run relays that they can use. This is also the main reason I run a relay, that and the fact that I’m one of those insane persons that think maintaining servers is somehow relaxing.
But, there’s some costs involved by running this relay, mainly hosting and bandwidth. Currently I’m fortunate enough to have found a provider that doesn’t meter bandwidth (a modest 5 Mbit/s Tor relay moves terabytes per week in traffic), but my current VM doesn’t have the CPU resources to shift more than 5-10 Mbit/s.
So, if you want to help, or just say thank you for the blog, please consider sending either Bitcoin to the following address (that way I don’t know from whom I’m getting support either, which is rather fitting in my opinion, but do pop me an email if you’d like your support to be publicly listed here.)
Also, if you don’t want the anonymity, there’s a Paypal option as well.
Tor Relay Donations