Update[September 05 13:36 GMT] Fox-it, an IT security company, has attributed the surge in Tor traffic to a relatively unknown yet huge botnet. Read more about it here.
The Tor (The Onion Router) network has witnessed over 100 per cent rise in the number of users connecting to it for the month of August and has reached record levels for the first time since the project has been collecting usage statistics.
The privacy-enhancing network is known for providing anonymous browsing experience through the use of a series of encrypted relays and had as many as 500k users throughout this year so far. But if we check the latest statistics available through Tor Metrics Portal there has been a whopping 100 per cent increase in number of Tor clients and as many as 1,200,000 users are connecting to the network. The previous peak for the network was in January 2012 when it saw as many as 950,000 users.
As Roger Dingledine notes in his mailer, the increase in number of users is probably not a fluke in the metrics data, but he doesn’t negate the fact that there could be a botnet which is inflating the numbers or probably the NSA. Dingledine has urged for some solid facts and figures that could support the spike in number of users.
If we go into country wise stats, US witnessed a jump of over 50k users from 100,000 to 150,000; UK witnessed near 100 per cent jump from 175,000 to 350,000; and Germany registered a rise to 880,000 from 450,000. India and Brazil registered the steepest rise of 426 per cent and 566 per cent respectively.
There have been instances of such burst in number of Tor users before and they were quite short lived, so chances are that the current increase may be a similar one. Exact reasons behind the rise in number of users is not evident, but chances are that recent NSA spying revelations could have forced users to go off the grid by using anonymity networks such as Tor.
Government surveillance and spying activities have taken a toll on some of the privacy oriented services lately and Lavabit and Silent Circle, which were known to provide secure email services, are the latest victims. New Zealand recently passed its controversial spy law which will enable New Zealand’s spy agency to legally support local law enforcement agencies and national defense forces by carrying out surveillance operations on citizens as well as residents.
Privacy oriented services are in demand and Mozilla may probably incorporate Tor as an optional feature in its Firefox browser. The Pirate Bay, on completion of its 10th year, recently announced the Pirate Brower, which will enable users to bypass ISP blockades and allow them to access blacklisted lites like H33T, Fenopy, Kickass Torrents and the likes.