I’ve been discussing Tor more frequently because I foresee a day when laws such as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) force everybody wanting to communicate online anonymously to seek shelter in fully encrypted and anonymized networks. In addition the that Internet related laws are slowing making it so only people who receive a stamp of approval from state regulators will be allowed to legally post material online. In fact the United States government has already used its influence to take down websites it found undesirable and there is no reason to believe such actions won’t continue.
Many people are turned off by Tor because it is relatively slow. The Tor network’s bandwidth relies on relay nodes, which all traffic is transmitted through. What is needed to speed up the Tor network are more fast relay nodes. To this end I’ve begun investigating the use of Raspberry Pis as Tor relay nodes. For those who are unfamiliar with the Raspberry Pi it is a credit card sized ARM-based Linux computer. Two models are available, a $25.00 model and a $35.00 model. As you can see the device is dirt cheap, based on a processor that Tor has been ported to, and, in the case of the $35.00 model, has a built-in Ethernet port. All of these features make for an ideal platform on which to run a Tor relay.
I ordered a $35.00 model Raspberry Pi (although I paid slightly more since they are in very short supply at the moment) Friday and received it Monday. After installing Rasbian, the Debian-based Linux distribution optimized for the Raspberry Pi, onto an SD card I had lying around I plugged my little device into my television and booted it up. Installing Tor on the device was easy, I just had to enter the command sudo apt-get install tor and wait for a minute or so (since the device uses an SD card for storage write operations can be kind of slow). After the short wait I had Tor up and running and merely had to edit the torrc file to enable it as a relay node, open port 9001 on my firewall, and restart the Tor service. My little relay now appears on the Tor Metrics Portal and has traffic routing through it. For now I’ve throttled the relay to use 1Mbps normally and allow 1.5Mbps burst speeds. I plan to increase the bandwidth bit by bit until the relay begins to interfere with my overall network speeds (I use my network for other services including serving this website and I don’t want the relay to interfere with those).
If this project pans out I believe it will offer an effective way to increase the overall bandwidth of the Tor network. I know several people who would like to run a Tor relay but lack the technical expertise to set one up. Having a cheap Tor relay appliance, which is possible by utilizing embedded platforms likes the Raspberry Pi, would give those people an option to help increase the network’s bandwidth and, by so doing, make the network more appealing. Someday, if the Tor network becomes fast enough, a bulk of Internet traffic could seek refuge from today’s tyrannical states in the encrypted and anonymized heaven it offers. Should that happen there is little states could do to censor people online.
I’ll close by saying that the future we live into today is amazing. You can now pick up a fully capable computer for $35.00. That is something I never expected to say just a few short years ago.