PRISM repercussion on the Tor network accesses

Pierluigi Paganini August 31, 2013

The article proposes the analysis of the impact on the use of the Tor network after the events related to PRISM surveillance program disclosure.

The use of Tor Network to preserve user’s anonymity and to avoid government surveillance, we discussed this topic several times explaining that through the analysis of Tor metrics data it was possible to study the effect of political events in the cyberspace. Cyberspace and ordinary life are directed linked, a disorder in the every part of globe has its repercussion on the cyber domain and viceversa. Analyzing the use of Tor Network it is possible to detect social protests or censorship/surveillance applied by any government.

The event that most of all has captured the media attention in the last months is the disclosure of the PRISM surveillance program made by Edward Snowden. The revelation of the Guardian highlighted also an intense collaboration between the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Canada, a group of governments dubbed  the “Eyes’ group” due their surveillance activities.

Which is the impact of PRISM disclosure on the Tor Network usage?

Let’s start from the use of Tor Network made by internet users in these 5 countries.


Tor Network users US

Tor Network users UK

Tor Network users NZ

Tor Network users Australia

Tor Network users Canada

The data displayed by the graphs are eloquent, the number of users is doubled on a global scale, almost in every country where the government has been mentioned by Snowden’s reveals the number of Tor Network users is increased as never before.

Tor Network users ALL

Population is increasing the awareness of the anonymous online Tor network and are exploring its use to avoid surveillance activities of their governments.

It’s easy to note that Tor Network users exploded on Aug. 20, just a couple of days after that David Miranda, Guardian journalist and blogger Glenn Greenwald’s partner was detained by UK law enforcement at Heathrow Airport for around nine hours.

Tor Network, despite is often considered the reign of cybercrime,  is a precious resource for activists, journalists and dissidents to conceal their online activities from snoops.

It must be considered that governments are actively working to try to track users also within the Tor Network. Governments are trying to detect methods of attack that could expose the user’s identity once in the network. Recently we read about the possible exploit of a vulnerability within the Firefox browser commonly used to surf within the Tor network, but many other researchers are working on the topic, track Tor users is the next challenge and probably someone is already able to do it. Governments could count also on the support of the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that are already able to detect Tor usage on their networks.

Another couple of data could be interested to evaluate the repercussion of PRISM case on the Tor network:

  • The number of relays is growing steadily.
  • Terms related to the PRISM case and to Snowden are still unpoular in the deep web, I found the data using the dashboard designed for the Artemis Project.

Tor Network users Relays Bridges


Another element of interest that might be missed by many is that the Tor project has among its principal financial sponsors the U.S. Government. It is known that the project was created by DoD, but why fund it today if the alleged anonymity of its networks could be a source of problems?

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Tor Network, PRISM)

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