Book review : Practical Anonymity: Hiding in Plain Sight Online

This is a review of the Practical Anonymity: Hiding in Plain Sight Online book.


This is not a technical book about the inner workings of Tor or Tails and I think a better title would be “How to use Tor and Tails for dummies”. Almost all the information present in the book can be found in the official documentation, the only positive point is that all the needed information is present in one single place.

Chapter 1. Anonymity and Censorship Circumvention

This first chapter is an introduction to what is on-line anonymity, why (the on-line anonymity ) is important for some people and how it can be achieved using Tor. The chapter contains also the fundamentals of how Tor is working, what it can do to on-line anonymity and some advises about how it can be used safely.

Chapter 2. Using the Tor Browser Bundle

The chapter is presenting the TBB (Tor Browser Bundle) in detail. The TBB is composed of three components; Vidalia which is the control panel for Tor, the Tor software itself and Mozilla Firefox browser. Each of this tree components are described from the user point of view, each of the possible configuration options are presented in detail.

Chapter 3. Using Tails

Tails is a is a Linux distribution that includes Tor and other softwares to provide an operating system that enhances privacy. The Tails network stack has been modified so that all Internet connectivity is routed through the Tor network.

In order to enhance privacy, Tails is delivered with the following packages :

  • Firefox
  • Pidgin
  • GNU Privacy Guard
  • Metadata Anonymization Toolkit
  • Unsafe Web Browser

Detailed instructions are presented about how to create a bootable DVD and a bootable USB stick and how to run and configure the operating system. The persistent storage feature of Tails is presented in detail so that the reader can understand what are the benefits and the drawbacks.

Chapter 4. Tor Relays, Bridges and Obfsproxy

The chapter is about how the Tor adversaries can disrupt the network and how the Tor developers are trying to find new technique to workaround these disruptions.

One way to forbid to the user the access to the Tor network is to filter the (nine) Tor directory authorities, that are servers that distribute information about active Tor entry points. One way to avoid this restriction is the use of Tor bridge relays. A bridge relay is like any other Tor transit relay, the  only difference is that it is not publicly listed and it is used only for entering the Tor network from places where public Tor relays are blocked. There are different mechanisms to retrieve the list of this bridge relays, like a web page on the Tor website or emails sent by email.

Another way to disrupt the Tor network is to filter the Tor traffic knowing that the Tor protocol packages have a distinguished signature. One way to avoid the package filtering is to conceal the Tor packages in  other kind of packages. The framework that can be used to implement this kind of functionality is called Obfsproxy (obfuscated proxy). Some of the plug-ins that are using Pbfsproxy: StegoTorus, Dust, SkypeMorph.

Chapter 5. Sharing Tor Resources

This chapter describes how a user can share his bandwidth becoming a Tor bridge relay, a Tor transit relay or a Tor exit relay. Detailed settings descriptions are made for each type of relays and also the incurred risks for the user.

Chapter 6. Tor Hidden Services

A (Tor) hidden service is a server that can be accessed by other clients within the anonymity network, while the actual location (IP address) of the server remains anonymous. The hidden service protocol is briefly presented followed by how to set up a hidden service. For the set up a hidden service the main takeaways are:

  • install Tor and the service that you need on a VM.
  • run the VM on a VPS (virtoual private server)  hosted  in a country having privacy-friendly legislation in place.
  • the VM can/should be encrypted, be power cycled and that has no way to know what IP address or domain name of the computer on which it is running.

Chapter 7. Email Security and Anonymity practices.

This last chapter is about the email anonymity in general and how the use of Tor can improve the email anonymity. The main takeaways :

  • choose a email provider that do not require another email address or a mobile phone.
  • choose an email provider that supports HTTPS.
  • encrypt the content of your emails.
  • register and connect to the email box using ALWAYS Tor.