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Tor users locked out of Facebook after wave of dodgy traffic

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Users of the Tor traffic anonymizing service are currently locked out of Facebook after a flood of dodgy traffic triggered an automatic lockdown by the social network's security systems.

Given the paranoid post-PRISM times we live, in the outage on Tuesday caused a certain amount of online panic. A report highlighting the issue briefly topped the front page on Reddit, before both Facebook and Tor told users there was nothing to worry about.

"Facebook is not blocking Tor deliberately," a Facebook spokesman told El Reg in a statement. "However, a high volume of malicious activity across Tor exit nodes triggered Facebook's site integrity systems which are designed to protect people who use the service. Tor and Facebook are working together to find a resolution."

Tor too was quick to reassure users that this wasn't the beginning of a crackdown on access to Facebook, although there's no public word yet as to the specific type of traffic that triggered the shutdown. In a blog post, it assured users of Tor systems that it was working with Facebook on this, and that they would be able to get their daily dose of birthday reminders, cat pictures, and web games as soon as the problem was fixed.

There's been a upsurge of interest in the Tor system ever since the revelations by NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden about the extent of domestic and international data surveillance by the US intelligence services. Tor uses a network of proxies to protect some of the activities of their users, but the organization has warned that the system isn't perfect.

"The core Tor software's job is to conceal your identity from your recipient, and to conceal your recipient and your content from observers on your end," it said. "By itself, Tor does not protect the actual communications content once it leaves the Tor network. This can make it useful against some forms of metadata analysis, but this also means Tor is best used in combination with other tools."

The group recommends using the HTTPS Everywhere browser plug-in to encrypt traffic to websites when possible, to do the same with email traffic using TorBirdy and Enigmail, and consider shifting to a decentralized social network such as Diaspora.

That said, a lot of work needs to be done to toughen-up the privacy protection of the Tor system, and the group is running a donations page to fund development and are on the lookout for volunteer coders to help out. ®

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