NewsDecember 20, 2016 @ 10:00 AM

Turkey Impairs Tor Network

Following the statutes on restricting virtual private networks (VPNs) enacted by the Turkish government in November, it seems that the Tor network has also been made much less useful. It appears that the government has limited the use of Tor with the cooperation of Turkish internet service providers (ISPs).

VPN Ban Affects the Tor Network

Bleeping Computer reported that Turkey Blocks, an organization that reports on internet freedom, is well-aware of the government ban on VPNs, which occurred at the same time as the Tor action. VPNs have been commonly used in Turkey to increase privacy when connecting to social media sites.

Turkey Blocks stated that the restrictions began around Dec. 12. As a result, “Tor’s direct mode is now entirely unusable via providers TTNet and UyduNet on the residential broadband connections we tested. Deep packet inspection (DPI) is likely used to disrupt the connection phase, which stalls around the 10 percent mark.”

This Year’s Blocks

The Turkish government already has a rocky relationship with social media. It banned Twitter when it was discovered that students were using it to organize protests, Bleeping Computer noted. Since that time, the government has banned or seized control of other major social media outlets.

For example, in 2014, Turkey blocked both Twitter and YouTube when the services hosted an audio file containing the then-prime minister directing his son to hide a large amount of cash before being investigated by the police.

Turkey also blocked access to Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and GitHub in October of this year, and went on in November to ban to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram again. Now it’s Tor’s turn in the barrel.

How Tor Gets Banned

The default Tor system uses the Tor Bridge Directory for the addresses of public relays. When a state actor cuts off access in a bid to disable Tor, it is possible to reconfigure the system to use a private relay instead via a bridge.

But this kind of operation requires a sophisticated and experienced user to perform it — a novice Tor user would not be able to complete it successfully. Because of this, the latest move by the ISPs will lower the availability of Tor to unsophisticated users, which may be just what the government wishes.

Default Tor configurations can be altered for some workarounds. One Tor network user suggested the use of meek-Amazon transport on Twitter. Other users have found that an already charged Tor browser continues to work on Turkish ISPs, at least for the moment.

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Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He wrote for IBM's DeveloperWorks site for seven years and has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange.