Tor Cloud Project closes its doors

Tor says the anonymous Web browsing service must close to maintain the security and privacy of users.

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The Tor Cloud Project is closing down to prevent catastrophic vulnerabilities from impacting the security of Tor network users.

Tor, well-known for its onion router network which uses relays to help users maintain anonymity online -- as well as access to the Dark Web -- also created the smaller Cloud Project, which allows users the same anonymity in return for donating bandwidth.

Less complex than setting up a standard Tor access point, the project allowed users to create "bridge" nodes in Amazon's EC2 cloud to connect to the Tor network -- contributing a small portion of the bandwidth necessary to keep the network alive.

See also: Diving into the Dark Web: Where does your stolen data go?

Launched in 2011 the Tor Cloud Project acted as a conduit to bring extra users to the fold. However, according to the Tor network blog, there simply are not enough developers contributing to the project to run it effectively.

"The main reason for discontinuing Tor Cloud is the fact that software requires maintenance, and Tor Cloud is no exception," Tor says.

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Without a pool of Tor developers to keep the software up-to-date and bug free, the service has become little more than a risk to the security and privacy of users.

However, the decision was not made lightly, and the non-profit spent "months" looking for a new maintainer to keep Tor Cloud alive. Within the blog post announcing Tor Cloud's closure, the Tor team writes:

"There is at least one major bug in the Tor Cloud image that makes it completely dysfunctional (meaning that users could not use this particular service to access the Internet), and there are over a dozen other bugs, at least one of them of highest priority."

Naturally, for a service designed with privacy, surveillance-free browsing and security in mind, these kinds of vulnerabilities are critical. The team says these bugs are probably the reason why the number of Tor Cloud bridges has declined since early 2014.

"There have been offers to send us patches, but we couldn't find a Tor person to review and approve them," the team notes.

The closure means that existing cloud instances will remain in tact, but the option to donate bandwidth in return for anonymous browsing is no longer available for new users. While Tor's service is now finished, the network is still encouraging users to start their own cloud bridge projects under the Onion Cloud name, potentially by forking the existing Tor Cloud code -- which will remain available for interested parties.

Tor says "cloud is still a good idea, it just needs somebody to implement it," and in the same manner, the network itself remains a solid force in evading surveillance. Last year, Facebook announced plans to launch its own .onion address through the Tor network, which allows Tor users to communicate directly with Facebook's data centres.

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