The Center for a Stateless Society is pleased to announce that we now support access to this site directly through the Tor network as an Onion Service. Practically, this means that if you visit the address vhgli4v7feaaz7ka.onion through the Tor Browser you will see the content of c4ss.org, but without your request to our server ever leaving the onion encryption of the Tor network.
When you browse normal websites via the Tor Browser your request is encrypted under several layers and then shuffled around in the Tor network with each forwarding node decrypting the instructions for the next node to forward it to. This provides some relatively strong anonymity guarantees against any observer or node in the network being able to tell both your location and the ultimate destination of your traffic (the website you’re accessing). But ultimately when browsing normal websites your request leaves the Tor network at an exit node and travels through the regular internet to the website’s server.
In contrast Onion Services directly establish a connection into the Tor network, allowing visitors to make connections to such servers without ever making requests on the normal (and relatively transparent) web. In many cases this is useful in that it provides some anonymity guarantees not just for the visitor, but also for the website itself! The Silk Road and its many descendants utilized this function to only serve their website over an Onion Service, and thus hide the location and other critical information about the server itself.
Our servers are not hidden, c4ss.org is happily and openly hosted in Reykjavík, Iceland by 1984 Hosting, a provider committed to resisting state power and that runs on geothermal and hydroelectric energy. So why provide an Onion Service in addition to our normal domain? Several reasons:
1.) We like Tor. We’ve consistently maintained a Tor node since very early on when the network was small, we count many Tor developers as personal friends & comrades, and we host guides to Tor & other security tools. By serving our site as an Onion Service we join a fledgling but growing number of other normal websites (including even Facebook thanks to one heroic engineer) who are in effect standing in solidarity with Tor and the precious anonymity it provides. Tor is not a silver bullet, but it provides a significant increase in anonymity and security. We know from the Snowden documents and other sources that while state agencies are sometimes able to successfully exploit a few users (due to things like using outdated versions of the Tor Browser), they are actually quite maddened by their inability to decloak all users, or even most specific users. Today millions of people use Tor and countless lives have been saved as a result. It is not an understatement to say that many anarchist projects and entire resistance movements would be direly crippled without Tor.
2.) Security for our users. Accessing our site through vhgli4v7feaaz7ka.onion provides automatic self-authentication. You don’t have to trust some intermediary Certificate Authority to tell you that you’re really reaching us directly and that no one is intercepting your connection, pretending to be us. Because the address itself is a hash of the unique secret key that identifies us, you can save it and be assured from then on whenever accessing our site through that address that you’re getting the real thing, with end-to-end encryption. Additionally the Tor Browser provides a number of other security benefits to users out of box and we hope to encourage more people to use it daily.
3.) Redundancy. The internet has been one of the greatest advances towards liberty in human history, in part because it developed so fast and so inauspiciously that the governments and private powers of the world were unable to quickly react. As the ramifications became clear, of course, they have responded with massive many-pronged attacks. Many countries have effected aggressive censorship regimes and major politicians in the global north are now openly calling for the outlawing of encryption and even the internet wholesale. We regularly face attacks and years ago were famously shut down by a DMCA served by neonazis. It is quite plausible that western governments will attempt broader censorship regimes targeting political dissidents and anarchists are always among the first. Today’s internet architecture has been warped in a drastically hierarchical direction that is hugely liable to state coercion. The Domain Name System and Certificate Authority infrastructures are horribly broken by design and it is probably only a matter of time before they are directly used as hands of the state. Providing an Onion Service enables us to continue serving content securely even in a relatively catastrophic situation where our domain and/or certificate are revoked or openly man-in-the-middle’d by state powers. Even if they take our server in Reykjavík we can simply move to a different server at a hidden location and continue to stay online at the same address.
Of course our canonical Onion Service address may change address in the future (the Tor Project is looking to extend the address size), but you can check back here for any updates.
We heartily encourage other anarchists, radicals and activists to do the same. Setting up an Onion Service on an already running server is painless. The Tor Project hosts good documentation and Riseup.net provides an excellent guide to best practices.
For a while the United States’ labyrinthine internal power structures worked at odds with one another — the State Department giving some grant money that ended up with the Tor Project while the Pentagon dedicated far more resources to fight it — since Snowden the US is finally getting its act together in recognizing that anonymity and a free internet ultimately poses an existential threat to state power. The Tor Project is thus desperately looking for new sources of funding. You can donate here, but even better than pouring funds into a single financial pool that is vulnerable to state sanction or attack is helping further decentralize the function of the Tor Project. If you have programming, translating, artistic, or organizing skills there are many ways to help directly by joining a legion of volunteers and contributors, formally or informally.
Make no mistake, the internet is not invulnerable; it is presently under siege on every front. They will escalate in their attacks upon its basic infrastructure, and we — as anarchists committed to a freer world — have an obligation to support resistance, to empower our readers, and to be ready for future developments.