Feeds

Tor usage up by more than 100% in August

Secure network usage spikes worldwide, reasons unknown

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

The privacy-enhancing Tor network has seen its total number of users per day more than double in the last month, reaching the highest levels since the project first began compiling usage statistics.

Graph of Tor users for August 2013

Tor traffic was up all over the globe in August 2013 – and we do mean up (Source: Tor Project)

The network, which anonymizes internet traffic by routing it through a series of encrypted relays, had been humming along with an average base of around 500,000 directly connected users for most of the year.

But that started to change around mid-August, and the results were both sudden and dramatic. As of Wednesday, the Tor network was seeing more than 1,200,000 users connecting daily, a figure that topped the previous record of around 950,000 global daily users in January 2012.

The reasons for the usage spike are not clear, but you can pretty much take your pick. The figures come on the heels of a seemingly never-ending series of revelations about security agencies in the US and UK and their roles in spying on internet traffic, both at home and abroad.

In early August, Lavabit and Silent Circle both shut down their secure email services, citing government pressure and the difficulty involved in plugging all the leaks inherent in the internet email protocols.

Then, as the month rolled on, the US National Security Agency's surveillance activities were revealed to have far surpassed the agency's mandate to keep an eye on foreign agitators. We learned that NSA agents secretly yet routinely shared intelligence with the Drug Enforcement Administration, spied on thousands of US citizens who had no relationship to ongoing terror investigations, and even allegedly bugged the United Nations.

Across the pond, Blighty's Government Communications Headquarters stormed the offices of The Guardian newspaper and smashed some of its computer equipment in an apparent attempt to intimidate it into not reporting on the GCHQ's surveillance activities at home.

Sure enough, Tor users in the US and the UK made up a large portion of the total in August. Around 90,000 Americans were connecting to Tor daily at the start of the month, but that figure grew to around 150,000 daily users by the end. UK daily users grew from around 16,000 to more than 35,000.

But other countries saw similar increases, too. India's Tor usage skyrocketed from just 7,500 daily users to over 32,000. In Brazil, usage climbed from around 15,000 to more than 85,000 users. Even China's Tor usage was on the rise – though, given the PRC government's tight control over internet access, there remain fewer than 400 confirmed Chinese Tor users per day, on average.

Mind you, there have been similar spikes in Tor usage before, and they have generally been short lived. It's entirely possible that this latest increase may have nothing to do with public concern over domestic spying, but stems from some other cause.

For example, in early August the Tor Project admitted that the network had come under attack by a previously unknown malware exploit. A similar assault could potentially be possible for late August's sudden surge in Tor usage.

The Reg will keep you posted if we learn anything new. But whatever the cause, as the Tor Project's Roger Dingledine observed on Tuesday, "It's not just a fluke in the metrics data – it appears that there really are twice as many Tor clients running as before."

"Anybody know details?" Dingledine wrote. "It's easy to speculate ... but some good solid facts would sure be useful." Indeed. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
One HUNDRED FAMOUS LADIES exposed NUDE online
Celebrity women victimised as Apple iCloud accounts reportedly popped
Rubbish WPS config sees WiFi router keys popped in seconds
Another day, another way in to your home router
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
NZ Justice Minister scalped as hacker leaks emails
Grab your popcorn: Subterfuge and slur disrupts election run up
HP: NORKS' cyber spying efforts actually a credible cyberthreat
'Sophisticated' spies, DIY tech and a TROLL ARMY – report
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.