The Tor Project: building decentralized privacy infrastructure & tools

Project Name

The Tor Project

Project Description and why it’s classified as a Public Good

The Tor Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Our mission is to advance human rights and freedoms by creating and deploying free and open source anonymity and privacy technologies, supporting their unrestricted availability and use, and furthering their scientific and popular understanding.

We develop free and open source software for privacy and freedom online, protecting people from tracking, surveillance, and censorship—the Tor network and Tor Browser. The Tor network is a decentralized privacy network designed to help people exercise their human right to privacy, freedom of speech, and access to information. Millions of people use the Tor network every day, most through Tor Browser, a privacy-hardened version of the open source web browser Firefox.

The Tor network, Tor Browser, and all other software, tools, and documentation produced by the Tor Project are free and open source. The Tor network and Tor Browser are designed to be used, built, and stewarded by a large community with different interests, needs, and perspectives. The Tor network is volunteer-run, with thousands of community members donating server capacity to create a piece of collaborative infrastructure that is free to use.

Main Project Funding Sources

The Tor Project receives funding from individuals, private foundations, government agencies, and corporations. You can see both our audited financial statements and our U.S. tax filings here: Tor Project | Reports.

Our funding typically comes in the form of project-specific grants and contracts. Project-specific grants are excellent for stability, but have limitations that make agile development and rapid response to changing internet censorship/surveillance very difficult. In order to better respond to some of the most difficult challenges in the internet censorship and privacy space, we need to raise more unrestricted funding.

As part of this effort to raise more unrestricted funds, we’ve built relationships and received funding from a variety of projects and people in the web3 space, including an NFT auction that was won by PleasrDAO, regular participation in Gitcoin Grant rounds, two grants from Zcash Community Grants, and many other donations from individuals and orgs.

Seeking project-specific funding or funding for general operations

In our request to be considered as a beneficiary of Octant funds, we are seeking general operation funding. The following examples are the kinds of projects made possible with general operating funding:

  • Fighting back in the censorship arms race. Right now, Turkmenistan is severely restricting and censoring the internet, including access to Tor. Helping people access the open internet in Turkmenistan requires a boost in resources that will help us increase bandwidth capacity for bridges that are working for people in Turkmenistan, translate Tor tools into Turkmen, and keep up with censorship analysis and to respond to discoveries by improving our censorship circumvention technologies.

  • Improving measurements of and insights into Tor network performance. Tor is an example of a mature decentralized service—proof that it’s possible to build a better internet. In order to demonstrate Tor’s importance and encourage even more support for this vision, we need to improve the way we can measure (in a privacy-preserving way) activity on the network.

  • Powering onion services, the gold standard in online privacy. Onion services allow people to provide and use services on the Internet, such as websites, securely, privately and without leaking any metadata. Plus, the traffic never leaves the decentralized Tor network. That means when you use an onion service, you don’t leave any footprints of your activity in your wake. With general operating funding, we can focus on important maintenance, additional denial of service attack protections, integrating congestion control and Conflux for Arti and onion services, and continuing to help news outlets, nonprofits, activists, and companies offer onion services to millions of people around the world.

Team Information, including backgrounds and roles

The Tor Project has a distributed team of full- and part-time staff, contractors, volunteers, researchers, and contributors who are experts in cryptography, encryption, anonymity, privacy, decentralization, internet freedom, censorship resistance, browser technology, community building, localization, user experience and design, and more. Learn about our people here: Tor Project | People.

Social Credibility (development progress, awards, notable GitHub commits, referrals)

Recognizing the benefit of Tor to digital rights, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) began funding our work on Tor in 2004. In 2006, the Tor Project, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was founded to maintain Tor’s development.

In 2007, the organization began developing bridges to the Tor network to address censorship, such as the need to get around government firewalls, in order for its users to access the open web.

Tor began gaining popularity among activists and tech-savvy users interested in privacy, but it was still difficult for less-technically savvy people to use, so starting in 2005, development of tools beyond just the Tor proxy began. Development of Tor Browser began in 2008.

With Tor Browser making the Tor network more accessible to everyday internet users and activists, Tor became an instrumental tool during the Arab Spring beginning in late 2010. It not only protected people’s identity online but also allowed them to access critical resources, social media, and websites which were blocked.

Since then, Tor has been important for many social and activist movements, including recently in Russia and Ukraine during the war and subsequent Russian censorship of news and social media. Tor has also been critical for Iranians as the government has restricted access to news and social media during the 2022-2023 protests against morality laws, police brutality, and the violation of human rights of women and girls.

In 2020, the Tor Project won the prestigious Levchin Prize for Real-World Cryptography, honoring Tor’s significant impact and innovation on the practice of cryptography and its use in real-world systems.

Today, our technology is widely understood as a key part of the toolkit for journalists, researchers, activists, and anybody targeted by surveillance or censorship. Tor is recommended by Freedom of the Press Foundation, Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Important news rooms, including The New York Times, BBC, ProPublica, Deutsche Welle, Mada Masr, and Radio Free Asia entities use Tor to offer censorship-resistant versions of their websites.

Key accomplishments in the last year

  • Re-writing the Tor protocol in Rust (aka, Arti, “a Rust Tor implementation”): The current Tor implementation—written in C—bears the signs of age. We’re on year two of the project to write a Rust implementation of the Tor protocols built from the ground up for safety from bugs that are common in C, flexible embedding, easy maintenance, and good performance on a variety of devices. Fully modernizing the Tor protocol is a huge undertaking and we’re making tremendous strides. This project has so far been supported by the Zcash Community Grants fund. (More here: https://blog.torproject.org/announcing-arti/).

  • Improving protections against denial of service attacks on the Tor network: Last month we released a dynamic, reactive proof-of-work mechanism for onion services designed to prioritize verified network traffic as a deterrent against denial of service attacks. We believe that the introduction of a proof-of-work mechanism will disincentivize attackers by making large-scale attacks costly and impractical while giving priority to legitimate traffic. (More here: Introducing Proof-of-Work Defense for Onion Services | The Tor Project).

  • Partnership with Mullvad VPN to launch Mullvad Browser: Earlier this year, we released a brand-new tool called Mullvad Browser. In short: the Mullvad Browser is Tor Browser without the Tor Network – a browser that allows anyone to take advantage of all the browser privacy features the Tor Project has created. If people want to connect the browser with a VPN they trust, they can easily do so. Our goal was to give users the privacy protections of Tor Browser without Tor. We want to give people options and demonstrate to the world that through partnerships like these, you can create technology with these values in mind. (More here: https://blog.torproject.org/releasing-mullvad-browser/).

Social Media

You can find a full list of our social media channels here: The Tor Project's official accounts on social media - General Discussion - Tor Project Forum

Discord contact

Al Smith, username: @smith.a

PLEASE NOTE I am offline btwn October 4 and October 22 — during this time contact both Isabela (Executive Director) @isa_bela01 and Gaba (Project Manager) @gabelula on Discord.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Do you have a commitment to open-source (i.e. every open-source license accepted by the Open-Source Initiative) technology and sharing results publicly?
  • Have you provided transparency about how exactly funding will be used?
  • Are you advancing values of freedom and privacy (no surveillance and handling of personal data)?
  • Are you supporting decentralization in various fields (for example building Web3 projects)?
  • Have you provided social media channels to the extent that we can confirm social proof of your project?
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Hello Octant community! You are invited to learn more about what the Tor Project has been up to at our upcoming event, the State of the Onion. The State of the Onion is an annual virtual event where we share updates from Tor Project’s teams and community, highlighting their work and the impact it has made in 2023.

  • Wednesday, Nov. 29 @ 17:00 UTC - State of the Onion with the Tor Project’s teams
  • Wednesday, Dec. 6 @ 17:00 UTC - State of the Onion with Tor’s community

Join us here for the live events, and be sure to click the “Notify Me” button to be reminded when the events start: www.youtube.com/watc
save-the-date-soto-2023
h?v=hdFL0kXu440

Read more about the event here: https://blog.torproject.org/event/state-of-the-onion-2023/

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