Anonymity services/networks like Tor, VPNs that don't log etc., seem like very double edged swords. Is there any way to prevent people with bad intentions (like breaking the law) from using them or identifying them?

After reading the wikipedia article of the Sybil attack

notable Sybil attack (in conjunction with a traffic confirmation attack) was launched against the Tor anonymity network for several months in 2014; the perpetrators are unknown. Many in the network security community suspect the NSA/CIA for such attacks but the details are unknown and are most likely never to be revealed. It is notable however, that during this time period an investigation was ongoing to de-anonymize tor users to find the administrators of the Silk Road, which later came to light.

shows how services like Tor get abused every day. Are there any justifications in using them aside from illegal activity?

closed as off-topic by Xander, Stephane, RoraΖ, M'vy, TildalWave Feb 5 '15 at 16:18

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about Information security within the scope defined in the help center." – Xander, Stephane, RoraΖ, TildalWave
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 8
    Until computers can read minds, there is no way to detect whether the user has a bad intent. – user253751 Feb 5 '15 at 9:53
  • @immibis just because we don't know someone's intent doesn't mean we can't prevent them from doing something – Celeritas Feb 5 '15 at 10:21
  • 4
    cf "Strong encryption seems like a very double edged sword. Is there any way to prevent people with bad intentions from using it?". – AakashM Feb 5 '15 at 14:31
  • Combining the question with @AakashM's comment: "Bitcoin seem like a very double edged sword. Is there any way to prevent people with bad intentions from using them?" a la Silk Road – Cole Johnson Feb 5 '15 at 16:23
  • 2
    @immibis Yes there is. All we need is proper implementation of RFC3514. – cpast Feb 5 '15 at 16:51

Officially, they are pushed forward to allow people in dictatorships to break laws restricting their freedom of information and/or expression.

Because, the problem with the law is, that you need some people to make it, and wherever people are involved, they try to get their beliefs into the law. As such, laws, even in so-called "democracies", are not always based on common sense, real-world requirements or scientific research (and then, scientists are people, too, putting all their beliefs into their research). Moreso in dictatorships, where freedom of expression ends whenever the ruler thinks that his power is endangered.

And you need guards to check that everyone abides by all the laws. Some say that the NSA is such a guard. These people have beliefs, too (like Edward Snowden). But then, who guards the guards? Who supervises that they don't break the law (like the CIA did, as the torture report revealed - yet, not one torturer will be sued or anything. Is this lawful?).

Then, there's another problem about laws. It's time. What is lawful now, may be unlawful next week. Furthermore, in many countries, things done now are seen as having been unlawful as of next week. Especially with freedom of expression, you may be put into a concentration camp by the next President Of The Reich about opinions you expressed five years ago. Some people who think that future rulers may oppose their views, will only express them in anonymity. That's what anonymity networks are thought for.

But: Like everything you create that allows someone to break an "unlawful law", whatever that is, it can be used to break a "lawful law", whatever that is. And: If some ruler can identify or shut out people who break "lawful laws", the next ruler can also identify or shut out people who break "unlawful laws".

  • you should have gone with "who watches the watchmen" but that is a really good answer. – Shaeldon Feb 5 '15 at 9:27
  • 1
    @Shaeldon I thought of using the Latin original, but decided against it. Yet, I wanted to stay as near as possible to it. – Alexander Feb 5 '15 at 9:30

Tor was originally created by the US Navy and DARPA in the 90s to protect online communications abroad. So there is certainly a legal use.

On the other hand, it is used to break the law in many countries, like in Iran and China.

Where do you live? Do you have a western viewpoint? If so, do you mind that people in Iran break the law using Tor to communicate freely with other people? Probably not. Unless they use it to plan terroristic attacks on Western targets of course.

If Tor is really secure, we can't know if it is used legally or illegally. The same goes for GPG and file encryption software like Truecrypt. If we would be able to check this, what use would it be?


Anonymity networks are designed to withstand any outside censorship or surveillance. That's their primary purpose and how well they do this is the criteria they are judged by.

However, most anonymity networks theoretically allow self-censorship by blacklisting on individual nodes. Networks need to identify resources by some kind of identifier like a hash value or GUID. When you run a node in an anonymity network, you can blacklist specific identifiers of known files you don't want to support and refuse to relay requests for them.

That way you would make it harder to obtain those resources, but you can not completely prevent it because you can not force other node-operators to do the same. Also depending on how the network works it might be more or less easy for other nodes to detect your behavior and blacklist your node for obstructive behavior.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.