Tor introduces WebTunnel to fight censorship

WebTunnel will serve as a “bridge” to connect to the Tor network in heavily censored regions, the developers said.

Described as a new type of Tor bridge, WebTunnel is now available in the stable version of Tor Browser. It joins a list of other censorship circumvention tools developed and maintained by The Tor Project.

“The development of different types of bridges is crucial for making Tor more resilient against censorship and stay ahead of adversaries in the highly dynamic and ever-changing censorship landscape,” the developers said in a blog post.

“This is especially true as we're going through the 2024 global election megacycle. The role of censorship circumvention tech becomes crucial in defending Internet Freedom,” they said.

According to The Tor Project, WebTinner is a “censorship-resistant” pluggable transport designed to mimic encrypted web traffic (HTTPS) inspired by HTTPT, a proxy designed to hide behind HTTPS servers to resist active probing attacks from censors.

“It works by wrapping the payload connection into a WebSocket-like HTTPS connection, appearing to network observers as an ordinary HTTPS (WebSocket) connection,” the developers said.

For an onlooker without the knowledge of the hidden path, it looks like a regular HTTP connection to a webpage server and gives the impression that the user is simply browsing the web, they said.

“In fact, WebTunnel is so similar to ordinary web traffic that it can coexist with a website on the same network endpoint, meaning the same domain, IP address, and port,” the blog post noted.

This coexistence allows a standard traffic reverse proxy to forward both ordinary web traffic and WebTunnel to their respective application servers.

“As a result, when someone attempts to visit the website at the shared network address, they will simply perceive the content of that website address and won't notice the existence of a secret bridge (WebTunnel),” The Tor Project said.