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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Hello Octant community!

Here’s an update on what we’ve been up to since the first Epoch.

Recent accomplishments

Introduced new Tor support materials and video tutorials in four languages

We’ve developed short, localized, and easy-to-digest explainer videos that guide users on how to access the Tor network, bypass censorship, and share files securely and anonymously. These videos are available in Arabic, Chinese, Swahili, and English. This new video series was designed to showcase the ease-of-use of our most popular tools and combat misconceptions about their everyday use:

Additionally, Tor Browser, Tor circumvention tools, Tor documentation and training materials, and OnionShare are now available in Arabic, Chinese, and Swahili.


Released Tor Browser 13.0

Over time, Tor Browser has come a long way and undergone several transformations to simplify its user interface and improve functionality. The recent Tor Browser 13.0 release features notable accessibility improvements, refreshed application icons, homepage features, and bigger new windows. This release also marks the removal of legacy code associated with the Torbutton—a step toward better integration and a seamless transition to the new Tor implementation written in Rust, Arti.


Released Arti 1.1.11

Arti is our ongoing project to create a next-generation Tor client in Rust. Our latest release, Arti 1.1.11, continues work on support for onion services in Arti. And we are so very close! We think that the odds are good that our next release will be the one in which they’re finally ready for testing by others. You can find a list of what we still need to do on the bugtracker.


Welcomed Amnesty International’s onion site

This month, Amnesty International, the international human rights non-profit, launched their website as a .onion site: amnestyl337aduwuvpf57irfl54ggtnuera45ygcxzuftwxjvvmpuzqd.onion. We’re happy to count them among the many human rights organizations that offer .onion versions of their sites in order to help users protect their privacy and bypass censorship.


Impact of funding from Octant Epoch 1

Very few of our projects are 100% funded by grants. That means we need unrestricted funding to be flexible in the face of censorship, to bridge funding gaps, and to make sure the organization remains steady. Support from the Octant allocations contributes to the success of all of these recent accomplishments. :grin:


Upcoming goals

  • In the next several months, likely Q1 and Q2 of 2024, we anticipate wrapping up the second phase of the Arti client’s development, which was funded by Zcash Community Grants (here’s a recent update on that progress). ZCG will have supported us taking a huge step to modernize Tor, and when were are done with this phase, our funding from Zcash Community Grants will be over. From there, we’ll move our entire Network team over to writing Arti and begin development of relay implementations in Arti. We’re getting closer and closer to Arti replacing the C implementation and your support is helping us get there.

  • We’re getting closer to our goal of sharing a beta testing version of the upcoming Tor VPN application! Stay tuned.

  • We’re rebuilding our donate.torproject.org page. This has been a pain point for a long time, and we look forward to making it easier to support the Tor Project.

  • We continue working on trainings and user research in the global south. We just launched the Privacy Resilience Grants call for proposals. Through this program, we aim to support organizations in MENA and East Africa that will work with their local communitys on Tor and digital security. These grants will also allow folks to run user research about Tor tools to help us improve the usability for their communities.

  • We started the process of deprecating Tor’s old bridge distribution system and plan to have everything moved to the new system by Q2 of 2024.

  • We have been working on improving censorship circumvention methods in China, Tibet, and Hong Kong. In the next several months we are also going to be focusing on responding to censorship events in Turkmenistan.

  • In the last year we have been talking directly with Tor relay operators to improve agreements in the community as well as ways to be sure the network remains healthy, and we will be continuing that effort in 2024.


Other funding

Individual donations

Right now the Tor Project is conducting our year-end fundraising campaign. This is when we raise the most money from indivudal donors each year and is important time for us to reach our budget goals. This year, a group of donors contributed to a matching pool of $75,000: Double your donation now! All gifts matched 1:1, up to $75,000 | The Tor Project. We have successfully reached that match!

Grants

Since September, we have:

  • Participated in Gitcoin Grants 19 (specifics tbd)

  • Applied for grants from some private foundations (responses pending)

More information

During this period we published our financial transparency report, which you can read here: Transparency, Openness, and Our 2021-2022 Financials | The Tor Project.


What to know more?

The Tor Project recently streamed our annual event, State of the Onion, where we shared what’s been happening over the last year with our tools and what we’re looking forward to accomplishing in the next year. You can watch the recording of the stream here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdFL0kXu440.

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Hi Al, really awesome update! Thanks for sharing and diving into the details with your update. I’m excited for what’s coming up in The Tor Project.

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Recent accomplishments

I’m very excited to share our updates from the last Epoch. We’ve been able to accomplish a lot with your support!

Launched election internet freedom monitoring project

This year, with more than 65 elections happening around the world, Internet freedom may be at risk. Some organizations have called it the Year of Democracy. Simultaneously, there is a rising concern that during these many electoral processes, governments in certain parts of the world will block access to the Internet in their countries. Governments may also censor media outlets, persecute and harass journalists, and block social media platforms and messaging apps.

In this context, the Tor Project has developed a project to monitor global elections, detect Internet censorship taking place during these elections, support Internet users so they can bypass this censorship by using Tor, and document these incidents.

So far, we’ve monitored elections in Pakistan, Belarus, and this weekend are monitoring the internet during elections in Russia.

  • Belarus: No internet censorship detected during the election

  • Pakistan: Site blocking, full internet outages, and blocking of VPNs detected

  • Russia: Happening now, March 15-17

→ Read more about defending internet freedom in 2024


Introduced Webtunnel, a new type of censorship circumvention mechanism

The Tor Project’s Anti-Censorship Team has officially announced the release of WebTunnel, a new type of Tor bridge designed to assist users in heavily censored regions to connect to the Tor network.

The development of different types of bridges are crucial for making Tor more resilient against censorship and stay ahead of adversaries in the highly dynamic and ever-changing censorship landscape. This is especially true as we’re going through the 2024 global election megacycle.

WebTunnel is a censorship-resistant pluggable transport designed to mimic encrypted web traffic (HTTPS) inspired by HTTPT. It works by wrapping the payload connection into a WebSocket-like HTTPS connection, appearing to network observers as an ordinary HTTPS (WebSocket) connection. So, for an onlooker without the knowledge of the hidden path, it just looks like a regular HTTP connection to a webpage server giving the impression that the user is simply browsing the web.

→ Read more about how Webtunnel empowers censorship circumvention


Launched Tor Postbox, a testimony hub featuring stories from Tor users worldwide!

Tor Postbox is a collection of anonymous user stories submitted by people who rely on Tor to protect their privacy and anonymity. We designed this resource to support individuals and organizations who are advocating to defend encryption and privacy-enhancing technology, as well as to better demonstrate Tor’s impact.

We encourage you to share their experiences with your network, friends and family, or as part of your work to promote the use of privacy-preserving technologies like Tor and help us defend strong online protections.

Here’s one example of the stories on the Postbox hub:

Encryption is privacy, as simple as that. Privacy should be the default, giving away information should be the exception. We should never wonder “do I have something to hide, do I have a reason to not give this information?” This way of thinking is extremely unhealthy. The only real question we should ask ourselves is “do I have a good reason to share this personal information?”

You can watch the Tor Postbox launch event, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K8ki7zBArs, in this video you will hear from digital rights advocates, journalists and other online privacy experts as they share insights on outreach, advocacy, challenges in 2024, and their vision for the future of digital rights.

Launch event features:

  • Cecilia Maundu, OSS Community Mobilizer & Sustainability Coordinator, Internews

  • Mahsa Alimardani, Internet Researcher, ARTICLE19

  • Donncha Ó Cearbhaill, Head of Security Lab, Amnesty Tech

  • Andrew Fishman, Investigative Journalist, The Intercept Brasil

  • Pavel Zoneff, Director of Communications, Tor Project (moderator)


Recent releases

  • Tor Browser 13.0.11 (March 6): This is an emergency release which updates our the domain fronting configuration for the Snowflake pluggable transport and the moat connection to the rdsys backend used by the censorship circumvention system.

  • Arti 1.2.0 (March 4): With this release of Arti, trying out onion services should be a smoother experience. We have fixed a number of bugs and security issues, and have made the onion-service-service feature non-experimental.

  • Tor Browser 13.0.10 (Feb 20): This release updates Firefox to 115.8.0esr, OpenSSL to 3.0.13, zlib to 1.3.1, and Snowflake to 2.9.0. It also includes various bug fixes.

  • Arti 1.1.13 (Feb 5): This release fixed some important bugs. We’ve also been doing a lot of work on storage of persistent state, and cryptographic keys, to support proper expiry of obsolete keys, and deletion of state for no-longer-required onion services.

  • Tor Browser 13.0.9 (Jan 22): This release updates Firefox to 115.7.0esr and Snowflake to 2.8.1. It also includes various bug fixes.

  • Arti 1.1.12 (Jan 9): With this release, it’s finally possible to run onion services for testing and experimentation. There are a lot of rough edges and missing security features, so we don’t (yet) recommend Arti onion services for production use, or for any purpose that requires privacy.


Impact of funding from Octant Epoch 2

Very few of our projects are 100% funded by grants. That means we need unrestricted funding to be flexible in the face of censorship, to bridge funding gaps, and to make sure the organization remains steady.

:partying_face: In particular, Octant allocations have helped make possible our work to monitor and respond to internet censorship during elections—which is currently not funded by any grant. :tada:


Upcoming goals

These goals published during the Epoch 1 update remain relevant.

  • In the next several months, likely Q1 and Q2 of 2024, we anticipate wrapping up the second phase of the Arti client’s development, which was funded by Zcash Community Grants (here’s a recent update on that progress). ZCG will have supported us taking a huge step to modernize Tor, and when were are done with this phase, our funding from Zcash Community Grants will be over. From there, we’ll move our entire Network team over to writing Arti and begin development of relay implementations in Arti. We’re getting closer and closer to Arti replacing the C implementation and your support is helping us get there. → This Epoch, we completed our first milestone!

  • We’re getting closer to our goal of sharing a beta testing version of the upcoming Tor VPN application! Stay tuned.

  • We’re rebuilding our donate.torproject.org page. This has been a pain point for a long time, and we look forward to making it easier to support the Tor Project. → We’ve made a lot of progress this Epoch and can’t wait for it to be live!

  • We continue working on trainings and user research in the global south. We just launched the Privacy Resilience Grants call for proposals. Through this program, we aim to support organizations in MENA and East Africa that will work with their local communitys on Tor and digital security. These grants will also allow folks to run user research about Tor tools to help us improve the usability for their communities.

  • We started the process of deprecating Tor’s old bridge distribution system and plan to have everything moved to the new system by Q2 of 2024. → Our first milestones were completed during this Epoch, and we’re making great progress!

  • We have been working on improving censorship circumvention methods in China, Tibet, and Hong Kong. In the next several months we are also going to be focusing on responding to censorship events in Turkmenistan. → See the Webtunnel release above!

  • In the last year we have been talking directly with Tor relay operators to improve agreements in the community as well as ways to be sure the network remains healthy, and we will be continuing that effort in 2024.


Other funding

Individual donations

During Epoch 1, the Tor Project our year-end fundraising campaign. This is when we raise the most money from individual donors each year and is important time for us to reach our budget goals. You can read a analysis of this campaign and how we will spend the money raised during this time on our blog.

Grants

  • No new awarded grants this period
  • Many grants in the pipeline for applications
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