Tor is used around the globe by human rights activist, journalists, political dissidents, persecuted minority groups and many others at great personal risk for things many of us often take for granted. It’s used daily in order to access or share information on the web without being arrested or worse. Some (a few? one?) people want to turn it all off.
There’s been a good amount of drama with the project in recent months, which you can search out for yourself instead of me trying to summarize things here. Suffice to say, no matter what you find published, you won’t know the whole story. No one outside the people involved actually do. No matter what you’re thinking about it right now, it’s most likely based on assumed knowledge. Stop it.
It actually hasn’t stopped a scruffy group of (oh, how to put it with decorum) butthurt trolls from deciding what’s true and what isn’t based on fanboy loyalty, as it turns out. They’ve tried to launch a “Torstrike” (with a hashtag, and a logo and everything!) to try and get Tor node hosters to turn off their machines for a day. That is, unless a series of mostly highly improbable and nigh unachievable demands are met. Great, punish at-risk internet users around the globe because you want to throw a take-our-toys-home temper tantrum. Apparently that’s set for 1 September.
A number of people are using this as an opportunity to set up Tor relay nodes and turn it into a strike for better Tor speeds for all. I would think that’s actually what any self-proclaimed defender of the internetwebs would want in spite of what their personal axes to grind with this or that individual may be.
Tor is open source software. You can use it in the form of the Tor Browser, for example, to achieve a more anonymous web cruising experience.
Setting up Tor relay is actually remarkably simple. It’s installing the Tor software, uncommenting some code, fidgeting some digits and restarting things until it all goes right. I’d warn against going for an Exit node unless you know what you’re getting into, and are prepared for it. But a relay can run on your own machine, or another one in the house. If you can get your company or large organisation to support it, then you can scale up. If you don’t want one in the house, setting it up somewhere like Digital Ocean is quick, and may run you $10 a month. After it’s been running a few hours, you can see how your relay compares to the rest here.
Guides on starting a relay abound, but I tend to think this one gets it most clear and succinct. Mine was up in working within 1 glass of wine and 4 tracks into the Spotify “Film Noir & Crime Jazz” playlist. The above linked walk-through works for Ubuntu 14.04, and I think it would be essentially the same for a Mac. If you want to try it on a Windows machine… well, I just don’t know what to do with you. Let me know how you get on.