Tor network is still blocked in Venezuela
Even though it's been more than a year since the initial block, the largest (state-owned) ISP in Venezuela is still blocking the Tor network.
The timeline left no doubt about the intentions behind the Tor ban. It came only a few months after a new cycle of blocks against local news outlets in spring 2018. Some were banned for explaining to the public how to get dollars on the black market, while others were reprimanded for criticizing the government.
Tor had become an essential privacy tool for the Venezuelans, especially after the bans. Using the Tor network had been one sure way of getting past the censorship and read some real news instead of state propaganda.
While the government has tried hard to restrict access to Tor in Venezuela, not all is not lost. There are actually a few ways to bypass the restriction. Here are some of them.
How to access censored content in Venezuela?
Venezuela blocks Tor, but only partially. They simply cannot burn all of Tor’s “bridges” – they don’t know all of them. According to reports, you can still access the network via the “meek-azure” bridge. However, in case this one gets burned as well, just get in touch with the Tor team ([email protected]) and ask for another bridge.
Good VPNs can carry out the same function that Tor does. But as always, there are pros and cons of using VPN over Tor.
For starters, Tor is free, when even an average VPN service will cost you anywhere from a few to a dozen dollars per month. In present-day Venezuela, where people are suffering an economic crisis and a shortage of international currency, that’s clearly an important factor when deciding between both.
But a VPN can be the most reliable way of getting past government censorship. For starters, Venezuela blocks Tor, but they have no means to ban VPNs in the same way.
Some VPNs offer their users obfuscated (or “stealth”) servers, which cannot be blocked even by such sophisticated censorship tools as the Great Firewall of China. Other VPNs offer security protocols that mask your traffic as HTTPS traffic, disrupting all blocking efforts.
Finally, a good VPN service will be faster than Tor. This is essential in Venezuela, which has some of the worst connection speeds in the world.
What is Tor, and what have they done to it?
Tor, short for “The Onion Router,” is a browser and free online network, whose purpose is to preserve the user’s anonymity. The network consists of volunteer routers or relays – anyone can become one, technically speaking, although it is good to have a lot of bandwidth. Here’s how Tor works: instead of your computer contacting a server, the traffic is sent on a journey through several (or several hundred) of these relays. The traffic is encrypted – levels of encryption are added or removed at each relay (depending on which way the traffic is going). This makes it very difficult for observers to know what you are doing online. While it’s not an ideal method and has some weaknesses, the level of security it provides is enough for most regular users.
Apart from the anonymity, Tor also serves another function – bypassing geo-blocking measures or censorship efforts. Both of these functions are relevant to the people of Venezuela, which is why the block is a serious blow to freedom of speech, and, consequently, meaningful change.
The ISP (read: the government) has not only blocked direct access to the Tor network by blocking publicly known relays. They have also managed to block some of the “bridges” of Tor. These “bridges” are simply relays that are not publicized and thus more difficult to outright block. The block is surprising because it requires a degree of sophistication the Venezuelan government had been deemed incapable of. Unfortunately, this seems like a harbinger of things to come – the South American country is taking strides towards internet hermit states like China, Iran, and others.