May 16, 2008

Anonymous Web surfing with TorK

Author: Federico Kereki

Everyone who surfs the Net is eminently trackable. Internet data packets include not only the actual data being sent, but also headers with routing information that is used to guide the packages to their destinations. Even if you use encryption for extra safety, the routing information -- which cannot be encrypted -- can reveal details about what you're doing, who you're talking to, what services you're connecting to, and what data you're accessing. Intermediaries (authorized or not) can also see that data and learn about you. If you want a higher level of anonymity, TorK can do the job. It uses The Onion Router (Tor) network to provide you with a safer way of browsing.

Tor sends your network packets through a network of encrypted virtual tunnels, creating a practically untraceable path back to you. When you want to connect to a specific URL, you first connect to a Tor server, which in turn sends the packets to another Tor machine, and so on, until your traffic eventually reaches its destination by means of a complicated, untrackable route. If you make another connection, you get a new route. Anybody who wanted to trace the packets back to you would have to go through several steps, and without any logging to reveal where your traffic came from, the trail would quickly become impossible to follow.

The first version of Tor was made available under a BSD license in 2004. The current version is 0.1.2, from January 2008, with a preview 0.2 release version on its way.

What is TorK?

TorK is a special KDE package that helps you with Tor and other related tools. TorK is licensed under the GPL, and its latest version is 0.28 from late 2007.

Installing TorK is easy. offers packages for several distributions, as well as source code. In order to be able to use TorK, you'll also have to get netstat (included in the net-tools package), GeoIP, and Privoxy; they're needed for TorK but not included within. TorK uses netstat to look for network activity that might breach your anonymity, while GeoIP provides geographic information for IP addresses, and Privoxy mediates between your browser and the Internet, filtering out any outbound personal information you could inadvertently send out. If you also want to be able to send anonymous email, add Mixminion to the list of packages. If you plan to use Firefox, it's a good idea to get the Firefox Torbutton add-on, which allows you to enable or disable the usage of Tor.

The first time you launch TorK, a first-run wizard will help you configure your box. You will have to make the following decisions:

  • Whether you want to run Tor on your PC (choose this one), or whether you want to monitor a remote Tor installation.
  • Whether you want to set Tor to start at boot time, or start it manually.
  • In what mode you want to run Tor: as a client, a server, a relay, or more. Just pick "Run a Tor Client with Default Settings," and if you ever decide to become a full-fledged server or relay (to provide anonymity to other people), you can change the settings later.
  • Whether you want to use Privoxy for privacy, or if you have another application for that; pick the former.
  • Whether you configured Privoxy to start at boot time, or if it needs be started up manually. Pick the latter, and TorK will start and stop Privoxy on its own when needed.
  • Whether you want to allow netstat to run as root. If you're installing TorK on a server with several users at the same time, this would be a bad idea (those users might monitor all network activity too) but for laptops and desktop machines you can accept it.

Tork's main window shows a Play button; click it, and you will be connected to the Tor network. After you're up and running, several other formerly disabled buttons will be available. For example, you can choose anonymous browsing (with Firefox, Konqueror, or Opera; you would have to configure other browsers on your own to go through Privoxy), send anonymous email, chat (with Konversation, but remember not to use your own name if you're serious about privacy), run an anonymous Web site or Web service, or start an SSH session. After clicking on the appropriate command button, you will probably get some information; you are also likely to get warnings if anything is set up in an inconvenient, unsafe, or unsecure way.

If you want to be sure that you're browsing anonymously, visit a site like or They should report an IP address that differs from what you see if you run ifconfig.

The Tor Network tab on the TorK window shows you your current connections, and all available Tor nodes, represented by a national flag and their names; click on any node to get statistics, or drag and drop a node to add it to your circuit. You can see all the traffic in the Traffic Log tab. Clicking on Change Identity forces TorK to find a new path through the Tor network. Unfortunately, the Help button is dated, providing information on the 0.1 version from 2001.


If you require safe, anonymous browsing, TorK can help you take advantage of the Tor network. TorK provides a simple interface and configuration, reducing the risks that a wrong setup can create. With just a few clicks, you can use TorK to start working transparently.


  • Internet & WWW
  • Privacy
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