TorBox v.0.2.5 released, featuring Bridge Relay support!

Almost a month ago, the Tor Project called for support:

We currently have approximately 1,000 bridges, 600 of which support the obfs4 obfuscation protocol. Unfortunately, these numbers have been stagnant for a while. It’s not enough to have many bridges: eventually, all of them could find themselves in block lists. We therefore need a constant trickle of new bridges that aren’t blocked anywhere yet. This is where we need your help. By setting up an obfs4 bridge, you can help censored users connect to the open internet through Tor.

Based on this call we put a bridge relay into the net a week ago, and – if everything works out – we will add a second one. However, that was not enough for us. Mostly during the last few weekends, we’ve implemented a TorBox feature that allows anyone with a public IP address, 24/7 internet connectivity over a long time, and a bandwidth of at least 1 Mbps to configure their bridge relay at the touch of a button and put it on the net. Besides, we have added and improved some other details, so that we can now release the resulting image as TorBox v.0.2.5. Below are the corresponding links (typically, you need only the image file):

TorBox Image: v.0.2.5 (24.09.2019)
TorBox Menu only: v.0.2.5 (24.09.2019)

Main Menu TorBox v.0.2.5
Main Menu TorBox v.0.2.5

Changelog v.0.2.4-rpi4 (08.08.2019) —> v.0.2.5 (24.09.2019)
New: This version introduces the support for setting up a bridge relay.
Updated : The system is based on Raspbian “Buster” lite with Linux Kernel 4.19.66 and Tor version 0.4.1.5.
New: A little message (“TOR is working“) in the right corner of the main menu shows you immediately if you are connected with the Tor network (meaning https://check.torproject.org returns a positive result). Since a missing response does not automatically mean that there is no connection to the Tor network, no error message is displayed. In other words, if this message is missing, there may or may not be a connection problem.
New: We use the same method as mentioned above for the final message box after selecting (or changing) a connection (main menu entry 6-11). In case of success, the message starts with “CONGRATULATION !!” otherwise with “HMMM… THAT DOESN’T LOOK GOOD…“. In contrast to the positive message, negative feedback does not necessarily mean that an error has occurred. Since the check does not last more than 5 seconds, Tor may not have been ready yet; the check site may have been down, etc.
New: Support for Adafruit’s PiTFT displays (PiTFT 3.5″ resistive touch 320×480, PiTFT 2.8“ capacitive touch 240×320, PiTFT 2.4″, 2.8″ or 3.2″ resistive 240×320, PiTFT 2.2″ no touch 240×320, Braincraft 1.54″ display 240×240). Note: TorBox’s menus and dialog boxes have only been adapted for the PiTFT 3.5 (320×480) or any other display, which displays in textual mode at least 25×80 characters.
Improved: Menus and dialog boxes should now work more smoothly on 25×80 textual screens as well as on smartphone and tablet clients. For that reason, we added for some message boxes scroll texts, which are visible with the “scroll down” remark in the title of the message box.
Improved: Revised version of the Tor reset functionality in the „Countermeasure & Troubleshooting“ menu.
Improved: Cleaning up in the shell scripts (used more variables, combine certain parts into functions, etc.).
Updated: Pre-configured Bridges (we also added our bridge relay)
Fixed: While adding bridges, TorBox activates/deactivates the new bridges depending on the current bridge modus.
Fixed: Some more non-critical bugs and typos in the text files.

The pre-v.0.2.6 release is expected at the end of the year.

The functionality of Tor easily explained

If you look at the various forums about Tor, there is a lot of skepticism, misunderstandings, and questions, especially among newcomers, about how Tor works and the possibilities (or limitations) it offers. This is due in particular to the fact that many people are unfamiliar with how Tor works, and feel that it is far too complicated to understand. With an excellent video of Computerphile, Dr. Mike Pound shows that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Very simple and easy for beginners to understand, he shows how Tor works and mentions its limitations.

Sneak Peek on TorBox 0.2.5

My first Tor Bridge Relay is properly working – see here.

With TorBox v.0.2.5 (coming soon) everyone with direct internet connection will be able to set up a Tor Bridge Relay — only with a view „clicks“.

Bridges are essential for people in authoritarian countries to reach the open internet. TorBox v.0.2.4 offers such client functionality already, but soon, users with a direct internet connection can help others by setting up their relay.

More information
Run Tor Bridges to Defend the Open Internet

TorBox To Go 2.0

Due to the size of the Raspberry Pi and the necessary accessories, TorBox is very easy to use on the road. Below, we show you the recommended minimal accessories for portable use. Nevertheless, all the stuff still fits into a waterproof, compact plastic container. Below the images, you find further information about the items used with the corresponding links.

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Although the Raspberry Pi takes up little space, the problem lies in the fact that the official power adapters to the Raspberry Pi are not very compact and therefore waste valuable space. There are smaller power adapters, such as the 12W USB Power Adapter by Apple shown in our example, but when directly connected to the Raspberry Pi, they can cause power problems. This also applies to power banks: the power supply is usually not sufficient for a long stable operation of the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B was still satisfied with 12W, but Model B+ and the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B require at least 15W (see here: Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Review and Performance Comparison and this Power Consumption Benchmarks). There is also another problem with the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B: because of a flaw in how the USB-C power input is behaving, currently, the Raspberry Pi 4 B does not work with most third-party power adapter and power banks. By contrast, the PiJuice HAT works reliably with almost all Raspberry Pi versions and models, and virtually any power adapter or power bank can be connected to it, so the somewhat weak standard battery doesn’t run out too quickly. With the PiJuice alone, TorBox can be operated for an estimated 1-2 hours, depending on the load.

Used Items

TorBox v.0.2.4-rpi4 released, featuring Raspberry Pi 4 Model B support!

I’m pleased to announce this new version of TorBox, which introduces the support for the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B. The image file was completely rebuilt based on Raspbian “Buster” lite with the Linux Kernel 4.19.58 and Tor version 0.4.0.5. This version does support not only the new Raspberry Pi 4 Model B but also the previous Raspberry Pi 3 (Model B / Model B+).

TorBox Image (870 MB): v.0.2.4 (08.08.2019)
TorBox Menu only: v.0.2.4 (08.08.2019)

In contrast to the previous versions, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B has a higher power consumption, which is why we also recommend the use of a Pimoroni’s chunky heatsink in combination with a Pibow Coupé 4 case (see photo above).

The TorBox pre-v.0.2.5 release is expected at the end of the year.

Updated: Useful browser add-ons to improve anonymity, security and/or usability

Along with the release of TorBox v.0.2.4, we were updating our website and added some new information in the FAQ section. We also heavily updated our recommended browser add-ons, which are mainly available for Firefox (our number one choice for web browsers alongside the Tor Browser). Here you can find a copy of the updated recommendations (the original list can be found here):

  • https-everywhere: Automatically makes websites use a more secure HTTPS connection instead of HTTP if they support it. With HTTPS, even the connection between the Tor exit node and the web server is encrypted. Tor Browser also uses this add-on. (USED BY TOR BROWSER; ESSENTIAL for SECURITY / ANONYMITY; available for Firefox, Firefox for Android, Chrome, and Opera).
    https-everywhere: How it works.
    https-everywhere: How it works.
  • NoScript: Allows JavaScript, Java, Flash, and other plugins to be executed only by trusted web sites of the users choice. NoScript also provides powerful anti-XSS and anti-Clickjacking protection. Tor Browser also uses this add-on. (USED BY TOR BROWSER; ESSENTIAL for SECURITY / ANONYMITY; available for Firefox and Chrome).
  • First Party Isolation: First Party Isolation, also known as Cross-Origin Identifier Unlinkability, is a concept from the Tor Browser. The idea is to key every source of browser identification with the domain in the URL bar (the first party). This makes all access to identifiers distinct between usage in the website itself and through third-party. Think of it as blocking Third-party cookies, but more exhaustively. (USED BY TOR BROWSER; ESSENTIAL for SECURITY / ANONYMITY; available for Firefox).
  • uBlock Origin: The only real working and independent ad blocker (ESSENTIAL for SECURITY / ANONYMITY / USABILITY; available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera).
  • Smart Referer: Prevents Cross Domain Referer Leakage (ESSENTIAL for ANONYMITY; available for Firefox).
  • CanvasBlocker: Allows users to prevent websites from using the Javascript canvas API for fingerprinting them. (ESSENTIAL for ANONYMITY; available for Firefox)
  • Decentraleyes: This browser add-on emulates Content Delivery Networks (CDN) by finding supported resources locally, and injecting them into the environment. All of this happens automatically, so no prior configuration is required. Here is a testing utility to find out if you are properly protected against a CDN vulnerability (ESSENTIAL for ANONYMITY; available for Firefox, Chrome, Opera).
    Decentraleyes: How it works.
    Decentraleyes: How it works.
  • Neat URL: Cleans URLs, removing parameters such as Google Analytics’ utm parameters. (ESSENTIAL for ANONYMITY; available for Firefox)
  • Skip Redirect: Some web pages use intermediary pages before redirecting to a final page. This add-on tries to extract the final url from the intermediary url and goes there straight away if successful. (ESSENTIAL for PRIVACY / USABILITY; available for Firefox)
  • Privacy Pass: Allow users to redeem validly signed tokens instead of completing captcha solutions. Clients receive 30 signed tokens for each captcha that is initially solved. Cloudflare currently supports Privacy Pass. (ESSENTIAL for USABILITY; available for Firefox and Chrome).
  • uMatrix: Point and click matrix to filter net requests according to its source, destination, and type (available Firefox, Chrome, and Opera).
  • Privacy Badger: A balanced approach to internet privacy between consumers and content providers by blocking advertisements and tracking cookies that do not respect the Do Not Track setting in a user’s web browser (available for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera).
  • FoxyProxy: FoxyProxy is an advanced proxy management tool (see also here; available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and others).
  • Bypass Paywalls: Let’s say you are a researcher and one of your sources is an article in the Washington Post. Would you subscribe, only for that one article? Yes, we thought so, too 😉 (available for Firefox and Chrome).

Do you have another very useful browser add-on? Let me know in the comment section below!

TorBox v.0.2.4 released, featuring OBFS4 Bridges support!

I’m pleased to announce the release of TorBox v.0.2.4. As promised, the focus of this release was on supporting OBFS4 bridges, which help to overcome censorship measures in certain countries (for example Turkey). Below are the links for the latest TorBox v.0.24 (typically, you need only the image-file):

TorBox Image: v.0.2.4 (25.05.2019)
TorBox Menu only: v.0.2.4 (25.05.2019)

Main Menu TorBox v.0.2.4
Main Menu TorBox v.0.2.4

Changelog v.0.2.3 (09.02.2019) —> v.0.2.4 (25.05.2019)
Updated: The system is based on Raspbian “Stretch” lite with Linux Kernel 4.19.2 and Tor version 0.3.5.8.
New: Instead of the “advanced submenu”, we split old and new functionalities into two separate submenus: “countermeasures & troubleshooting” and “configuration & update”.
New: We implemented in the “countermeasures & troubleshooting” submenu a user-friendly way to activate, configure, and change the OBFS4 bridge’s functionality. There are 15 pre-configured OBFS4 bridges in the configuration, which were fully functional at the time of the release. We hope to help with this approach beginners. We urgently need your feedback to develop this functionality further.
New: Since TorBox v.0.2.3, nyx does a good job as a statistics tool (main menu entry 1). However, there are certain cases, when Tor hangs during bootstrap, that nyx doesn’t start either. Therefore we have added an alternative method in the submenu “countermeasures & troubleshooting” (entry 11) to quickly display the log file of Tor and update the display if necessary.
New: TorBox is now providing a SOCKS v5 proxy functionality on port 9050 to its connected clients. If you use that capability, applications which support SOCKS v5 proxy connectivity and “DNS over proxy” (for example Firefox or the add-on FoxyProxy) can access directly .onion sites. For more information, see here.
Improved: We again reduced the size of the image file, which is now about 865 Mbyte.
Changed: All scripts are now executed by bash instead of sh. The change was needed to enable the handling with arrays.
Fixed: Some minor bugs and cleaned up the code.
Removed: The experimental section (for now).

The pre-v.0.2.5 release is expected at the end of the year.

Press and Internet censorship in Turkey

Article 26 paragraph 2 of the Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of the press and expression. At the same time, it legitimizes a regulatory system for “publications by radio, television, cinema or similar means”. Finally, in paragraph 2, the above mentioned rights of freedom are again undermined by a large number of arbitrarily applicable exemptions. At the same time, a vague formulation about the protection of “the reputation or rights of others and their private or family life” opens the door to restrict freedom of the press and expression. Nevertheless, the government often uses the argument “support of a terrorist organization” as justification for any repression. Accordingly, many journalists find themselves behind bars: at the end of December 2018, there were 68 in jail – no other country (followed by China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) imprisoned so many journalists. On average, jailed Turkish journalists spend more than a year in detention awaiting trial, and after that, imposing long prison sentences is the norm. In some cases, even sentences of life without parole have been handed down (“Turkey: Massive Purge“, Reporters Without Borders, 2018).

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

While Turkey has never been a model for guaranteeing freedom and human rights, the situation has worsened in stages after 2006, 2013, and 2016. The EU has criticized Turkey from early on, and the relationship is often strained not the least because of apparent shortcomings in freedom and human rights. Despite an association agreement in 1963 and a customs union at the end of 1995, the EU renounced accession negotiations in 1997 (to the annoyance of Turkey in contrast to the Eastern European countries and Cyprus), which in the short term led to a break in talks between the EU and Turkey. Quasi for reconciliation, at the end of 1999, Turkey was categorized as an “applicant country” by the European Council. At the same time, the European Council stated that the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria would be a prerequisite for the opening of accession negotiations or entry to the EU. The Copenhagen criteria include “institutional stability, democratic and constitutional order, respect for human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”.

In fact, at the beginning of the 2000s, Turkey was trying to meet these criteria. For example, a comprehensive reform of Turkish civil law was undertaken, the death penalty was abolished even in times of war, torture was forbidden, the freedom of assembly and demonstration expanded, and the rights of the Kurds were strengthened. Ironically, today’s Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) were behind many of these reforms. Nevertheless, the new standards were often paper tigers, because, in practice, it proved lacking. For instance, in its report last year, Amnesty International stated that torture is still occurring among people in police custody and that public authorities do not effectively prevent it (“Turkey 2017/2018“, Amnesty International).

Amnesty International activists ride a boat on the Spree, Berlin. They demand the release of Taner Kılıç, founder and president of the Turkish section of Amnesty International. Kılıç was detained by Turkish authorities on 6 June 2017 and charged with use of the smartphone program ByLock and membership of a terrorist organization. One of Turkey’s supreme courts declared in September 2017 that having ByLock installed on the phone of an accused person was sufficient to establish that person’s membership of the Gülen movement. He remained in detention until 15 August 2018.
Amnesty International activists ride a boat on the Spree, Berlin. They demand the release of Taner Kılıç, founder and president of the Turkish section of Amnesty International. Kılıç was detained by Turkish authorities on 6 June 2017 and charged with use of the smartphone program ByLock and membership of a terrorist organization. One of Turkey’s supreme courts declared in September 2017 that having ByLock installed on the phone of an accused person was sufficient to establish that person’s membership of the Gülen movement. He remained in detention until 15 August 2018.
The limited successes of the reform efforts were short-lived. As early as 2006, an intensification of the anti-terrorist legislation led to an increase in journalist arrests. There were also restrictions on the use of the Internet. In May 2007, Law No. 5651 on the regulation and the fight against crime on the Internet came into force. This law was initially promoted to combat sexual exploitation and abuse of children, prostitution, and gambling, but over the years it has increasingly been used as a basis to block all kinds of content the government finds disagreeable. Based on this law, in addition to blocking websites, access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Skype is repeatedly temporarily blocked, the connection speed is throttled, or access to the Internet is completely blocked (Burcu Selin Yılmaz, Hümeyra Doğru, and Volkan Bahçeci, “What If You Cannot Access the Internet in the Surveillance Society? Individuals’ Perceptions Related to The Internet Censorship and Surveillance in Turkey“, Journal of Media Critiques, vol. 3, no. 11, 10 September 2017, p. 74f). This law has been used as the basis for completely blocking all content on Wikipedia since the end of April 2017. However, the Internet is not only partially blocked: since November 2011, there is also a nationwide filter system. Finally, for the first time, in September 2012, an Internet user was sentenced to one year in prison for insulting the Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Facebook. The increasing censorship of Internet content is also reflected in the evaluation by Freedom House: since 2009, this rating has steadily worsened and has been rated as “not free” since 2016.

A further sustained restriction of freedom of the press and expression – both in the classical sense as well as on social media – took place in 2013. This was due to several events, which, together with social media and conventional reporting had a negative impact on the then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his political environment, and the AKP. Starting in 2012 and particularly in 2013, several hundred Turkish officers were jailed for past or suspected coups or attempted coups. Overlapping, the conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) flared up from October 2011 to March 2013 (and later again from 2015). However, the most influential were the demonstrations starting in late May 2013 in Istanbul against a planned construction project on the grounds of Gezi Park. These demonstrations increasingly became a nationwide, anti-government protest and culminated in December 2013 with the publication of massive allegations of corruption against the AKP government.

The Turkish media have embarrassed themselves. While the whole world was broadcasting from Taksim Square, Turkish television stations were showing cooking shows. It is now very clear that we do not have press freedom in Turkey. — Koray Çalışkan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, cited in Constanze Letsch, “Social Media and Opposition to Blame for Protests, Says Turkish PM“, The Guardian, 3 June 2013.

Because of the lack of coverage by pro-government media, social media played a decisive role in organizing the demonstrations and protests for the Occupy Gezi movement (Erkan Saka, “Social Media in Turkey as a Space for Political Battles: AKTrolls and Other Politically Motivated Trolling“, Middle East Critique, vol. 27, no. 2, 3 April 2018, p. 161). As a result, access to social media and anti-government content on the Internet has been severely restricted. When incriminating recordings of the corruption scandal were published on YouTube and Twitter, the government reacted by temporarily blocking these services entirely. Erdoğan described social media as “the worst menace to society” and the government arrested Turkish Twitter users for the first time. Despite Erdoğan’s negative attitude towards social media, in the fall of 2013 the AKP announced that it wanted to build a 6,000-strong team of young, tech-savvy party members, which would silence government-critical voices on social media (like a Troll army; Erkan Saka, “The AK Party’s Social Media Strategy: Controlling the Uncontrollable“, Turkish Review, vol. 4, no. 4, 7 August 2014, p. 418–23).

2011 protests against internet censorship in Turkey.
2011 protests against internet censorship in Turkey.
The press in Turkey can hardly be called free. Almost all media companies are owned by large holding companies that have connections to political parties. Around a dozen journalists, who had reported positively about the demonstrators during the protests in 2013, were fired. After facing massive amounts of pressure in their media companies in 2014, hundreds of journalists who had previously investigated corruption cases quit their jobs. Law No. 5651, which was strengthened by the AKP in February 2014, expanded state monitoring capabilities. Internet service providers (including Internet cafés and free Wi-Fi providers) were required to keep their users’ activity data up to two years instead of the original one year. This data had to be provided at the request of the authorities without requiring any judicial order (Bilge Yesil and Efe Kerem Sozeri, “Online Surveillance in Turkey: Legislation, Technology and Citizen Involvement“, Surveillance & Society, vol. 15, no. 3/4, 9 August 2017, p. 545). However, parts of the strengthening, such as the two-year retention period, were reversed in December 2016 by a Turkish Constitutional Court ruling.

Starting in 2014, charges against journalists and students for insulting government officials increased. From the beginning of Erdoğan’s presidency at the end of August 2014 until the failed coup attempt in mid-July 2016, 1,845 people were charged with insulting the Turkish president – a criminal offense punishable by up to four years in jail under Turkish law. As a gesture of national solidarity Erdoğan dropped almost all the charges after the failed coup attempt (except for pro-Kurdish parliament members and the German satirist Jan Böhmermann). Since then, however, there have been new charges.

A Turkish soldier who took part in the attempted coup is kicked and beaten by the crowd (Photo: Selcuk Samiloglu).
A Turkish soldier who took part in the attempted coup is kicked and beaten by the crowd (Photo: Selcuk Samiloglu).

After the failed coup attempt in mid-July 2016, repression has once again noticeably increased. To date, more than 96,000 people (including 319 journalists) have been arrested, and around half a million have been investigated (including more than 2,000 young people under the age of 18), more than 150,000 people have been fired (including more than 6,000 academics and nearly 4,500 judges). In addition, 189 media outlets were closed during this period (“Monitoring Human Rights Abuses in Turkey’s Post-Coup Crackdown“, Turkey Purge, 19 April 2019). As of November 2016, 114,000 websites were blocked for political or social reasons. These include news agencies as well as online forums reporting on LGBTI issues, ethnic minorities (especially pro-Kurdish content), and social unrest or show anti-Muslim content.

Page views of the Turkish Wikipedia https://tr.wikipedia.org/ in 2017.
Page views of the Turkish Wikipedia https://tr.wikipedia.org/ in 2017.
Since December 2016, a large number of VPN providers and Tor entry nodes have been blocked. Public censorship can be bypassed with a reasonably stable connection if the Tor client uses OBFS4 bridges. However, this approach only works if web pages are blocked; there is no solution if the overall connection to the Internet is throttled or the connection is blocked entirely (Yılmaz, Doğru, and Bahçeci, p. 78f). Offiziere.ch is aware of a case in which a relatively reliable, permanent connection was made with 15 bridges. In TorBox version 0.2.3, the possibility to use bridges is experimentally implemented, but not yet in a user-friendly way (there is a well-documented configuration file for savvy users). A more user-friendly implementation will be provided with the pre-version 0.2.4 – planned for the middle of this year. Currently, the following VPN providers are available in Turkey: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, AstrillVPN, PrivateVPN, and CyberGhost. Like Tor with OBFS4, they also rely on obfuscated protocols. In any case, the VPN user is well advised to additionally use Tor over VPN so that the VPN provider can only recognize an encrypted, target-anonymized data stream.

Also, in mid-March 2018 ProtonMail was blocked. ProtonMail is an email provider located in Switzerland, which specializes in the free or cost-effective offering of user-friendly encrypted email communication. According to information from ProtonMail customer service the service was accessible again after a few days for users located in Turkey, but based on the information available to offiziere.ch there were at least repeated temporary restrictions. Particularly piquant is that the blocking was carried out by Vodafone Turkey, which is part of the British Vodafone Group. Once again there are companies in democratic states supporting censorship in authoritarian states.

TorBox on GitHub / Updated TorBox v.0.2.3 GitHub release

TorBox has now its own GitHub page, which gives you an easy way to contribute to the TorBox project. Especially for that occasion, TorBox v.0.2.3 has been updated. Here are the links for the latest TorBox v.0.23 (usually, you need only the image-file):

TorBox Image : v.023 (09.02.2019)
TorBox Menu only : v.023 (09.02.2019)

Changelog v.0.2.3 (09.01.2019) —> v.0.2.3 (09.02.2019)

  • Updated: The system is based on Raspbian “Stretch” lite with Linux Kernel 4.14.79 and Tor version 0.3.5.7.
  • Updated: nyx (the Tor statistics program) from version 2.0.4 to 2.1.0.
  • Updated: Reduced logging is now enabled by default. Corresponding menu entry in the advanced menu let you change the amount of logging.
  • Updated: “Erase all log files” (entry in the advanced menu) deletes all log files (previous behavior was to reduce them to 0 bytes).
  • Minor fix: Fixed some minor bugs, cleaned up the code and especially the configuration files in “/etc“.
  • Removed: The Screen Saver (entry in the main menu) and slurm.

The pre-v.0.2.4 release is expected at the end of May 2019 and will focus on improved usability of bridges.