Tor on Campus

Take the Tor Challenge to Your College or University Campus

Colleges and universities are ideal locations to contribute to The Tor Project by running a middle or an exit node on campus. As centers of learning, universities are places where the exploration and investigation of new and often controversial topics is encouraged, where freedom of speech and thought should flourish. And anonymity is one way to more freely explore information online.

The Tor browser provides anonymity by relaying your online traffic through at least three points before connecting you to the Internet. There are plenty of reasons why students, faculty and staff should consider running a middle or an exit node on campus. There are also plenty of potential concerns or roadblocks you might encounter. Read on for tips and things to think about when getting the conversation started about setting up a Tor exit or middle node on campus.

Read the collection of stories from people who have experimented with hosting a Tor node on university campuses.

Why it makes sense to run a Tor node on university and college campuses

  • Universities are typically home to a reliable, robust, and well-equipped network.
    University and college campuses function like an Internet Service Provider unto themselves, delivering and uploading content for tens of thousands of users, while hosting hundreds of sites. University networks are often also very fast and have multiple IP addresses. Tor benefits from a diversity of connections, and university networks are often so independent and vast, that they provide a wonderful and reliable addition to the set of networks that host Tor nodes. It's often not a strain on university resources to allocate additional server space or provide a dedicated IP address for a Tor exit or middle node.
  • Running a Tor node is a learning experience.
    All too often, Tor is maligned through associations with illegal or criminal activity. But we know that this is a shallow and incomplete understanding of the uses and purposes of anonymous Internet usage. In fact, Tor was initially developed as a U.S. government project in association with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. The truth is that anonymous browsing is essential for the exercise of the basic human right to free expression in countries where the Internet is filtered or blocked by oppressive regimes. Victims of domestic abuse or medical patients often need to explore the Internet and communicate without fear that their identity will be tied to their activity online, and all kinds of professionals, from inventors with trade secrets to lawyers that need to secure the confidentiality of their clients, use Tor to accomplish their work. Setting up a Tor node on campus is a vital and exciting learning opportunity. It helps those who are new to Tor shift away from the demonization of a freedom-enhancing technology, and move towards an understanding rooted in reality.
  • It is a meaningful contribution towards our project of a free, safe, and globally connected Internet.
    Professors and students who care about human rights and free speech have the opportunity to participate in strengthening a project of liberation technology. The larger and more diverse and dense the network of Tor nodes is, the better the project works. That means that anonymized Internet connections travel faster and people can use the Internet safely and more efficiently.

Getting the conversation started on campus

Many students may be interested in contributing to The Tor Project on campus, but are unsure of how to get the conversation started. Here are some tips that we've pulled from successful efforts to establish an exit or a middle node on campus. If you encounter resistance, please use and remix our Open Letter Urging Universities To Encourage Conversation About Online Privacy.

  • Ask your friends and other professors if they know of someone working in the computer science, political science, or journalism department that may already advocate for security or online privacy
    Students will often need faculty allies to initiate running a Tor node on campus. But often there are professors and technologists on campus who are familiar with and support The Tor Project. If you don't already have contacts, try searching through your computer science, journalism, political science, or any related departments' websites to see if any professor specializes in online privacy, security, or communications and human rights. Email them to set up a meeting to talk about setting up a Tor node on campus.
  • Contact a computer science or human rights group on campus
    There is a great chance that other students will want to be involved or get excited about the prospect of contributing to The Tor Project. You all can work together to find out who the professors and IT professionals are on campus that you'd need to talk to in order to get the project started.
  • Start a digital rights campus group
    Often the biggest barrier to setting up a Tor node on campus is one of understanding. Faculty and the IT department might not be convinced that supporting a freedom-enhancing technology project is worth the potential risk, so sometimes it might take a series of information sessions and ongoing meetings to demystify Tor for people that are new to the concept of online anonymity. Check out our organizing resources and start a campus group. Setting up a Tor node is a great first project.

Students are already running Tor relays on campus

Tom Lowenthal started a Tor exit node at Princeton in 2011. Here's what he said about it:

I run a Tor exit node because I support the ubiquitous availability of strong anonymity for anyone who wants it. Tor is one of the strongest, best- researched, and most widely-used online anonymity system, and I want to help keep it running at maximum capacity...the school's general counsel was the most understanding. After I explained to him exactly how Tor works, and we reviewed the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, he got on board with the EFF's legal position. He also realized that this left the University with negligible liability for what was going on, and that -- on the contrary -- it was only sanctioning me that would raise the legal risk under the CDA.
Read more.

Understand the risks and learn some tactics for addressing potential concerns

Many IT departments may be understandably concerned about the risk of having Tor traffic exit from their network. This is because there is potential for legally questionable activity that occurs over Tor to be tied to the university since anonymized traffic appears to have originated from the campus. This can cause law enforcement to first come to the campus in search of the origin of the suspicious activity or for DMCA copyright complaints to be sent to the host of the exit node. Although it is rare for the host of an exit node to be troubled by law enforcement, we highly recommend reading our legal FAQ to better understand the risks.

  • Try to dedicate a separate IP address to the middle or exit node
    Some servers blacklist Tor traffic, so having a separate IP address will help to ensure that only traffic from the dedicated Tor IP address will be blacklisted or affected, and not other users of the campus network who share an IP address with the Tor node. Note that EFF believes that Tor relays should be protected from copyright liability for the acts of their users because a Tor relay operator can raise an immunity defense under the DMCA as well as defenses under copyright's secondary liability doctrines. However, no court has yet addressed these issues in the context of Tor itself. Check out our legal FAQ.
  • Consider a reduced exit policy
    Exit policies allow hosts of Tor nodes to decide what kind of traffic is allowed to travel through their node. The Tor Project has an excellent explainer on the kinds of exit policies available for exit node hosts and how limiting what is allowed to travel through your node can reduce its risk of receiving legal complaints. Most reduced exit policies still allow web browsing activity that may give rise to content-related complaints or investigations.
  • Set up a reverse DNS entry for the IP address
    By setting up a reverse domain name for the IP address running the Tor node, you can help to alleviate knee-jerk reactions from sysadmins and people who see unfamiliar traffic coming from your IP node. A domain name like tor-exit.yourdomain.edu or tor-proxy-readme.yourdomain.edu might be useful.
  • Set up a Tor Exit Notice
    Once you have a good reverse DNS name, you should put some content there that explains what Tor is for those who see the name and try to visit it via HTTP. If you run your DirPort on port 80, you can use the Tor config option "DirPortFrontPage" to display a notice explaining that you are running an exit node. This sample content from The Tor Project website will help educate and inform people who stumble upon the Tor exit node DNS name. Be sure to update the contact info and other places marked with FIXME in the notice.

Resources