Watching the revolutions unfolding in the Arab world this springtime – and learning details first-hand from our friends on the ground – we at EFF struggled to find meaningful ways to support democratic activists and promote online freedom of expression. But we didn’t just want to lend a helping hand –we wanted to create a pathway so that anyone, anywhere in the world, could contribute to making the Internet more private and more resistant to censorship. From these discussions came our idea of launching the Tor Challenge.
We started the Tor Challenge with a simple goal: to launch 100 new Tor relays. Tor is software that individuals –including online activists in authoritarian regimes– can use to mask their IP addresses and proxy out to uncensored networks, helping them dodge network surveillance and elude online censorship. But Tor isn’t merely software – it’s also a network of volunteer computers, each donating bandwidth and acting as a router so that people can bounce their requests through the network, thereby obscuring their digital tracks.
We launched our campaign on May 31, 2011 –and within days surpassed our goal of 100 new relays. Today, we are closing the challenge after adding 549 new relays to the network. This includes:
Middle relays: 299
Current bandwidth: 326,084 kb/s
Percentage of Tor network bandwidth: 5.77%
While some of the new relays were later taken offline, the majority of them stayed operational. The total number of public relays in the Tor network has increased by 13.4% during the course of our campaign.
There is an acute need for circumvention technologies in authoritarian regimes - and even activists in many would-be progressive societies may feel safer if they can avoid the electronic gaze of authorities. Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher and advocate for the Tor Project, recently wrote:
The Tor Challenge is a phenomenal show of support for the Tor network and the network graphs show the results. The efforts expended by EFF supporters around the world have helped to continue the Tor network's growth in a positive direction. Additionally, the educational efforts made by the EFF have similarly impacted the world; people everywhere understand the need for anonymity as well as how to use Tor to meet their needs in a practical manner.
While EFF’s Tor Challenge may have ended, individuals and organizations that want to create a more private Internet can still run Tor relays. And those who want to support Tor but aren’t tech-savvy can find an ally in TorServers.net, an organization based in Germany that provides technical assistance and support in running Tor relays.
Our gratitude goes out to the hundreds of individuals who set up relays and donated bandwidth to help strengthen the network. They are true defenders of online freedoms.