Everything you always wanted to know about Tor (Browser) but were afraid to ask

Why Anonymity Matters

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at Oct 30, 2015 1.45


The Tor network is a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tor’s users employ this network by connecting through a series of virtual tunnels rather than making a direct connection, thus allowing both organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy. Along the same line, Tor is an effective censorship circumvention tool, allowing its users to reach otherwise blocked destinations or content. Tor can also be used as a building block for software developers to create new communication tools with built-in privacy features.

Individuals use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and their family members, or to connect to news sites, instant messaging services, or the like when these are blocked by their local Internet providers. Tor’s hidden services let users publish web sites and other services without needing to reveal the location of the site. Individuals also use Tor for socially sensitive communication: chat rooms and web forums for rape and abuse survivors, or people with illnesses.

Journalists use Tor to communicate more safely with whistleblowers and dissidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use Tor to allow their workers to connect to their home website while they’re in a foreign country, without notifying everybody nearby that they’re working with that organization.

Groups such as Indymedia recommend Tor for safeguarding their members’ online privacy and security. Activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommend Tor as a mechanism for maintaining civil liberties online. Corporations use Tor as a safe way to conduct competitive analysis, and to protect sensitive procurement patterns from eavesdroppers. They also use it to replace traditional VPNs, which reveal the exact amount and timing of communication. Which locations have employees working late? Which locations have employees consulting job-hunting websites? Which research divisions are communicating with the company’s patent lawyers?

A branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East recently. Law enforcement uses Tor for visiting or surveilling web sites without leaving government IP addresses in their web logs, and for security during sting operations.

The variety of people who use Tor is actually part of what makes it so secure. Tor hides you among the other users on the network, so the more populous and diverse the user base for Tor is, the more your anonymity will be protected.

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FACEBOOK SAYS IT will give video creators and publishers a way to remove copyrighted videos that have been uploaded to its popular social network without the proper permission.

This Apple employee is so secretive he signs his emails with a question mark – LISA EADICICCO Aug. 15, 2015, 8:17 AM

Customers stand beneath an Apple logo at the Apple store in Grand Central station in New York City, July 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

Thomson Reuters — Customers with an Apple logo at the Apple store in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

Apple is known for being extremely secretive not only to the public, but internally as well.

Employees learn information on a need-to-know basis, which means you’re only given the exact amount of insight you need to do your job.

So if you’re a hardware engineer, you probably won’t have any clue as to what an engineer on the software team is working on.

But one Apple employee on Apple’s Special Projects team is so secretive it seems he doesn’t want anyone to know what he’s up to. Engineer Frank Fearon’s email signature consists of just a question mark, The Guardian wrote in their recent story about Apple’s rumored car project (emphasis is ours):

While one of the engineers corresponding with GoMentum Station admits to belonging to Apple’s Special Projects group, Fearon signs his emails with a cryptic question-mark icon.

It’s not uncommon for Apple employees to remain vague about their work. In fact, Apple puts new employees and interns through “secrecy training” when they’re hired, a former intern told Business Insider in a previous interview.

“You can’t tell anyone anything about your job,” this former intern said. “You can’t tell people outside of your family what you’re working on.”

This can make it hard to work effectively since you can’t communicate what you’re working on to people on other teams, said the former intern, who asked to only be referred to as Brad.

Here’s what Simon Woodside, a former Apple employee, wrote on Quora about the secrecy at Apple:

Having all these secrets was difficult from my perspective. I couldn’t really engage in idle banter with my colleagues for fear of slipping something out.

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In 1850, the Reverend Thomas Kirkman, rector of the parish of Croft-with-Southworth in Lancashire, England, posed an innocent-looking puzzle in the Lady’s and Gentleman’s Diary, a recreational mathematics journal:

“Fifteen young ladies in a school walk out three abreast for seven days in succession: it is required to arrange them daily, so that no two shall walk twice abreast.” (By “abreast,” Kirkman meant “in a group,” so the girls are walking out in groups of three, and each pair of girls should be in the same group just once.)

Solve a variation of Thomas Kirkman’s puzzle by arranging nine girls in walking groups. And think fast—the clock is ticking.Click to Open Overlay Gallery
Solve a variation of Thomas Kirkman’s puzzleby arranging nine girls in walking groups. And think fast—the clock is ticking. Emily Fuhrman for Quanta Magazine, with design by Olena Shmahalo. Collage resources from The Graphics Fairy and and Clker.

Pull out a pencil and paper, and you’ll quickly find that the problem is harder than it looks: After arranging the schoolgirls for the first two or three days, you’ll almost inevitably have painted yourself into a corner, and have to undo your work.

The puzzle tantalized readers with its simplicity, and in the years following its publication it went viral, in a slow, modestly Victorian sort of way. It generated solutions from amateurs (here’s one of seven solutions) and papers by distinguished mathematicians, and was even turned into a verse by “a lady,” that begins:

Quanta Magazine


Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent division of SimonsFoundation.org whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

A governess of great renown,
Young ladies had fifteen,
Who promenaded near the town,
Along the meadows green.

While Kirkman later bemoaned the fact that his weightier mathematical contributions had been eclipsed by the popularity of this humble brainteaser, he was quick to defend his territory when another prominent mathematician, James Joseph Sylvester, claimed to have created the problem “which has since become so well-known, and fluttered so many a gentle bosom.”

The puzzle may seem like an amusing game (try a simpler version here), but its publication helped launch a field of mathematics called combinatorial design theory that now fills gigantic handbooks. What started as an assortment of conundrums about how to arrange people into groups—or “designs,” as these arrangements came to be called—has since found applications in experiment design, error-correcting codes, cryptography, tournament brackets and even the lottery.

Yet for more than 150 years after Kirkman circulated his schoolgirl problem, the most fundamental question in the field remained unanswered: Do such puzzles usually have solutions? Kirkman’s puzzle is a prototype for a more general problem: If you have n schoolgirls, can you create groups of size k such that each smaller set of size t appears in just one of the larger groups? Such an arrangement is called an (nkt) design. (Kirkman’s setup has the additional wrinkle that the groups must be sortable into “days.”)

It’s easy to see that not all choices of nk and t will work. If you have six schoolgirls, for instance, you can’t make a collection of schoolgirl triples in which every possible pair appears exactly once: Each triple that included “Annabel” would contain two pairs involving her, but Annabel belongs to five pairs, and five is not divisible by two. Many combinations of nk and t are instantly ruled out by these sorts of divisibility obstacles.

For the parameters that aren’t ruled out, there’s no royal road to finding designs. In many cases, mathematicians have found designs, through a combination of brute force and algebraic methods. But design theorists have also found examples of parameters, such as (43, 7, 2), that have no designs even though all the divisibility requirements check out. Are such cases the exception, mathematicians wondered, or the rule? “It was one of the most famous problems in combinatorics,” said Gil Kalai, a mathematician at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He recalls debating the question with a colleague a year and a half ago, and concluding that “we’ll never know the answer, because it’s clearly too hard.”

Just two weeks later, however, a young mathematician named Peter Keevash, of the University of Oxford, proved Kalai wrong. In January 2014, Keevash established that, apart from a few exceptions, designs will always exist if the divisibility requirements are satisfied. In a second paper posted this April on the scientific preprint site arxiv.org, Keevash showed how to count the approximate number of designs for given parameters. This number grows exponentially—for example, there are more than 11 billion ways to arrange 19 schoolgirls into triples so that each pair appears once.

The result is “a bit of an earthquake as far as design theory is concerned,” said Timothy Gowers, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge. The method of the proof, which combines design theory with probability, is something no one expected to work, he said. “It’s a big surprise, what Keevash did.”

Winning Big

Mathematicians realized in the early days of design theory that the field was intimately connected with certain branches of algebra and geometry. For instance, geometric structures called “finite projective planes”—collections of points and lines analogous to those in paintings that use perspective—are really just designs in disguise. The smallest such geometry, a collection of seven points called the Fano plane , gives rise to a (7, 3, 2) design: Each line contains exactly three points, and each pair of points appears in exactly one line. Such connections gave mathematicians a geometric way to generate specific designs.

In the 1920s, the renowned statistician Ronald Fisher showed how to use designs to set up agricultural experiments in which several types of plants had to be compared across different experimental conditions. Today, said Charles Colbourn, a computer scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe, “one of the main things [experiment-planning software] does is construct designs.”

Starting in the 1930s, designs also became widely used to create error-correcting codes, systems that communicate accurately even when information must be sent through noisy channels. Designs translate neatly into error-correcting codes, since they create sets (groups of schoolgirls) that are very different from each other—for instance, in the original schoolgirl problem, no two of the schoolgirl triples contain more than a single girl in common. If you use the schoolgirl groups as your “code words,” then if there’s a transmission error as you are sending one of the code words, you can still figure out which one was sent, since only one code word will be close to the garbled transmission. The Hamming code, one of the most famous early error-correcting codes, is essentially equivalent to the (7, 3, 2) Fano plane design, and another code related to designs was used to encode pictures of Mars that the Mariner 9 probe sent back to Earth in the early 1970s. “Some of the most beautiful codes are ones that are constructed from designs,” Colbourn said.

Design theory may even have been used by betting cartels that made millions of dollars off of Massachusetts’ poorly designed Cash WinFall lottery between 2005 and 2011. That lottery involved choosing six numbers out of 46 choices; tickets won a jackpot if they matched all six numbers, and smaller prizes if they matched five out of six numbers.

There are more than 9 million possible ways to pick six numbers out of 46, so buying tickets with every possible combination would cost far more than the game’s typical jackpot. A number of groups realized, however, that buying hundreds of thousands of tickets would enable them to turn a profit by scooping up many of the smaller prizes. Arguably the best assortment of tickets for such a strategy is a (46, 6, 5) design, which creates tickets of six numbers such that every set of five numbers appears exactly once, guaranteeing either the jackpot or every possible five-number prize.

No one has found a (46, 6, 5) design so far, Colbourn said, but designs exist that are close enough to be useful. Did any of the betting cartels use such a design “to siphon money from the Lottery at no risk to themselves?” wrote Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who discussed the Cash WinFall lottery in his book How Not to Be Wrong. If they didn’t, Ellenberg wrote, they probably should have.

It would be hard to make a complete list of the applications of designs, Colbourn said, because new ones are constantly being discovered. “I keep being surprised at how many quite different places designs arise, especially when you least expect them,” he said.

A Perfect Design

As the number of design applications exploded, mathematicians filled reference books with lists of designs that might someday prove useful. “We have tables that say ‘For this set of parameters, 300,000 designs are known,’” said Colbourn, a co-editor of the 1,016-page Handbook of Combinatorial Designs.

Despite the abundance of examples, however, mathematicians struggled to get a handle on just how often designs should exist. The only case they understood thoroughly was the one in which the smallest parameter, t, equals 2: Richard Wilson, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, showed in themid-1970s that when t = 2, for any k there is at most a finite number of exceptions—values of n that satisfy the divisibility rules but don’t have designs.

But for t greater than 2, no one knew whether designs should usually exist—and for values of t greater than 5, they couldn’t even find a single example of a design. “There were people who felt strongly that [designs] would exist, and others who felt strongly that it’s too much to ask for,” Colbourn said.

In 1985, Vojtěch Rödl of Emory University in Atlanta offered mathematicians a consolation prize: He proved that it’s almost always possible to make a good approximate design—one that perhaps is missing a small fraction of the sets you want, but not many. Rödl’s approach uses a random process to gradually build up the collection of sets—a procedure that came to be known as the Rödl nibble, because, as Keevash put it, “instead of trying to swallow everything at once, you just take a nibble.”

Since then, the Rödl nibble has become a widely used tool in combinatorics, and has even been used in number theory. Last year, for example, mathematicians used it to help establish how far apart prime numbers can be.

But mathematicians agreed that the nibble wouldn’t be useful for attempts to make perfect designs. After all, at the end of Rödl’s procedure, you will typically have missed a small fraction of the smaller sets you need. To make a perfect design, you’d need to add in some additional larger groups that cover the missing sets. But unless you’re very lucky, those new larger groups are going to overlap with some of the groups that are already in your design, sending new errors cascading through your system.

Designs just didn’t seem to have the kind of flexibility that would allow a random approach to work. It seemed “obviously impossible,” Gowers said, that an approach like Rödl’s could be used to make perfect designs.

Last year, however—nearly three decades after Rödl’s work—Keevash showed that it is possible to control the cascade of errors by using an approach that marries flexibility and rigidity. Keevash modified Rödl’s construction by starting off the nibble with a specific collection of schoolgirl groups, called a “template,” that has particularly nice algebraic properties. At the end of the nibble, there will be errors to correct, but once the errors propagate into the template, Keevash showed, they can almost always be fixed there in a finite number of steps, producing a perfect design. “The full proof is extremely delicate and it is a phenomenal achievement,” wrote Ross Kang, of Radboud University in the Netherlands.

“I think a few years ago, nobody thought that a proof was on the horizon,” Colbourn said. “It’s an extraordinary breakthrough.”

For pure mathematicians, Keevash’s result is in a sense the end of the story: It establishes that for any parameters t and k, all values of n that fit the divisibility conditions will have a design, apart from at most a finite number of exceptions. “It sort of kills off a whole class of problems,” Gowers said.

But Keevash’s result leaves many mysteries unsolved for people who care about actual designs. In theory, his template-nibble approach could be used to create designs, but for now it’s unclear how large n has to be for his method to work, or how long an algorithm based on his method would take to run. And while Keevash has proved that designs almost always exist, his result doesn’t say whether a design will exist for any particular set of parameters you might care about. “People will presumably still work on this for generations,” Wilson said.

An illustration of the nine prisoners problem from Martin Gardner’s book The Last Recreations.Click to Open Overlay Gallery
An illustration of the nine prisoners problem from Martin Gardner’s book The Last Recreations. Martin Gardner / Springer Science+Business Media

Still, Keevash’s result will shift the mindset of mathematicians who are trying to find designs, Colbourn said. “Before, it wasn’t clear whether the focus should be on constructing designs or proving they don’t exist,” he said. “Now at least we know the effort should focus on constructing them.”

And the shortage of information about specific designs leaves plenty of fun puzzles for recreational mathematicians to solve. So in the spirit of Kirkman, we will leave the gentle reader with another brainteaser, a slight variation on the schoolgirl puzzle devised in 1917 by the British puzzle aficionado Henry Ernest Dudeney and later popularized by Martin Gardner: Nine prisoners are taken outdoors for exercise in rows of three, with each adjacent pair of prisoners linked by handcuffs, on each of the six weekdays (back in Dudeney’s less enlightened times, Saturday was still a weekday). Can the prisoners be arranged over the course of the six days so that each pair of prisoners shares handcuffs exactly once?

Dudeney wrote that this puzzle is “quite a different problem from the old one of the Fifteen Schoolgirls, and it will be found to be a fascinating teaser and amply repay for the leisure time spent on its solution.” Happy solving!

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

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Apple gets partial win on appeal in Samsung patent case – NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO | BY ANDREW CHUNG AND JULIA LOVE Mon May 18, 2015 10:57pm EDT

A woman holding an Apple iPhone passes a Samsung Galaxy S6 advertisement at a mall in Singapore April 24, 2015. Samsung is expected to announce Q1 results this week. Picture taken April 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Edgar Su

A woman holding an Apple iPhone passes a Samsung Galaxy S6 advertisement at a mall in Singapore April 24, 2015. Samsung is expected to announce Q1 results this week. Picture taken April 24, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) was handed a mixed ruling by a U.S. appeals court in the latest twist in a blockbuster intellectual property battle with Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), as a prior patent infringement verdict was upheld but a trademark finding that the iPhone’s appearance could be protected was thrown out.

That means up to 40 percent of a $930 million verdict which had been won by Apple must be reconsidered.

In the highly anticipated ruling stemming from the global smartphone wars, the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. upheld patent infringement violations including one which protects the shape and color of its iPhone as well as the damages awarded for those violations.

“This is a victory for design and those who respect it,” Apple said in a statement on Monday.

Samsung welcomed the court ruling regarding the trademark finding.

“We remain confident that our products do not infringe on Apple’s design patents and other intellectual property, and we will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our products,” it said in a statement.

Shares in Samsung climbed 2.6 percent in Seoul trading after the decision, beating the wider market’s .KS11 0.6 percent gain.

The long-running dispute with Samsung dates back to when former Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs was still alive and was seen as emblematic of his tendency to fiercely defend the company’s proprietary designs and technology from copies.

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Squelching Creativity – By Kal Raustiala and Christopher Jon Sprigman – MARCH 12 2015 12:27 PM

What the “Blurred Lines” team copied is either not original or not relevant.

Marvin Gaye, Pharrell Williams, and Robin Thicke

Marvin Gaye, Pharrell Williams, and Robin Thicke.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by NBCU Photo Bank, Frazer Harrison, & David Buchan/Getty Images.

“Blurred Lines” was the most talked-about single of 2013. Partly because it was an insidiously catchy pop confection that sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 weeks. And partly because of the controversy over whether the song, and especially the accompanying video (which racked up almost 400 million views), was misogynistic and “rapey.”

Now “Blurred Lines” is having a second moment. The song has been the subject of a pitched legal battle between the family of the late Marvin Gaye and songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. Members of the Gaye estate publicly accused the musicians of copying key elements of Gaye’s iconic 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.” Williams and Thicke pre-emptively sued the Gaye estate, seeking a court declaration that they did not copy Gaye. And this week the verdict came down. The “Blurred Lines” team was found liable for copyright infringement and ordered to pay nearly $7.4 million in damages.

This is one of the largest music industry copyright verdicts in history. But the biggest losers in this saga aren’t Williams and Thicke, who can readily afford the millions each. It’s all of us who love music. The “Blurred Lines” verdict may end up cutting off a vital wellspring of creativity in music—that of making great new songs that pay homage to older classics.

“Blurred Lines” unquestionably references “Got to Give It Up.” Indeed, Williams and Thicke made clear that the feel of their song and Gaye’s were very similar. The key issue in court was whether they crossed the line into copyright infringement—and where exactly that line is.

So, what precisely did Williams and Thicke copy? We should start by making clear that they did not copy any of the specific sounds on Gaye’s classic recording of “Got to Give It Up.” This is not a sampling case, like the famous 1990s suit between Rick James and MC Hammer over “U Can’t Touch This.” Cases like that, and a host of others, put what many consider a sad end to the era of free and easy use of sampling in popular music.

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Google reverses decision to delete British newspaper links – Fri Jul 4, 2014 2:52am EDT

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

(Reuters) – Google Inc on Thursday reversed its decision to remove several links to stories in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, underscoring the difficulty the search engine is having implementing Europe’s “right to be forgotten” ruling.

The Guardian protested the removal of its stories describing how a soccer referee lied about reversing a penalty decision. It was unclear who asked Google to remove the stories.

Separately, Google has not restored links to a BBC article that described how former Merrill Lynch Chief Executive Officer E. Stanley O’Neal was ousted after the investment bank racked up billions of dollars in losses.

The incidents underscore the uncertainty around how Google intends to adhere to a May European court ruling that gave its citizens the “right to be forgotten:” to request the scrubbing of links to articles that pop up under a name search.

Privacy advocates say the backlash around press censorship highlight the potential dangers of the ruling and its unwieldiness in practice. That in turn may benefit Google by stirring debate about the soundness of the ruling, which the Internet search leader criticized the ruling from the outset.

Google, which has received more than 70,000 requests, began acting upon them in past days. And it notified the BBC and the Guardian, which in turn publicized the moves.

The incidents suggest that requesting removal of a link may actually bring the issue back into the public spotlight, rather than obscure it. That possibility may give people pause before submitting a “right to be forgotten” request.

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