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Tor has a new HTTPS-esque feature to help beat censorship

 The Tor Project logo.
The Tor Project logo.

The Tor Project has released a new bridge called WebTunnel, aimed at those trying to access the internet in regions with heavy censorship.

In its blog post, the organization says, "the development of different types of bridges are crucial for making Tor more resilient against censorship and stay ahead of adversaries in the highly dynamic and ever-changing censorship landscape."

The announcement comes at a crucial time, as many elections will be taking place around the world this year, which means that many countries will look to restrict access to the public internet in an attempt to silence any dissenting voices.

WebTunnel

The Tor Project describes WebTunnel as a "censorship-resistant pluggable transport designed to mimic encrypted web traffic (HTTPS)." This means that to observers, it looks like an ordinary HTTPS connection, so that it seems as if the user in question is merely browsing in an ordinary way.

The similarities are so strong that Tor claims that "WebTunnel... can coexist with a website on the same network endpoint, meaning the same domain, IP address, and port."

It also says that unlike obfs4 bridges, WebTunnel's ability to mimic regular web traffic means it is "more effective in scenarios where there is a protocol allow list and a deny-by-default network environment."

Tor compares network censorship methods to a coin sorting machine, with the coins themselves representing the flow of web traffic. The machine checks to see if the coins are the right shape to fit through the slot, and lets them through if they are. In the case of fully encrypted web traffic, the coins don't fit, so they are blocked.

Tor explains that since obfs4 traffic matches no recognizable shape for censorship authorities, it gets blocked. But because WebTunnel traffic looks like HTTPS traffic, it gets passed.

WebTunnel bridges can be found on the Tor bridges website, under the Advanced Options section. They require the latest versions of the Tor Browser to work, which are available for desktop and Android devices.

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