Setting Up Torbirdy

In This Earlier Posting, I wrote that I was setting up an old, garbage-grade laptop, to connect entirely through Tor. And one of my motivations has to do with the USB-stick, in that I am trying to establish that this USB-stick cannot really be of such immense benefit to whoever is using it, as is claimed, and that therefore, Edward Snowden cannot also have gotten much use out of .

Further, I think we can see that in recent years, the way in which PCs react to inserted, ‘ USB-sticks’ has also changed, so that our chances of finding a host machine which will boot from such a pen-drive, but without the consent or knowledge of its owner, are also quite slim. An actual laptop bypasses that problem.

What I think I found, was that most of the services which we could connect to – including IRC Servers – detect that we are connecting to them from a remote IP address that belongs to a Tor gateway – a so-called “Exit-Node” – and if we are authenticated, bans the user, or otherwise just blocks the user.

What I had written though, was that in addition to being able to use the Web-browser, I wanted my own laptop to be able to perform one additional task. And so I had found that a mailbox service exists called , and that it runs its own Tor Exit-Node internally, for which reason we could send and receive email with them, once we have set up and paid for an account.

What I discovered, is that this not only works in theory, but actually does in practice. We need to install an ‘‘ extension named “” to get that to work, but it does finally work.

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Experimenting with Tor

I own an old, beat-up laptop I name ‘‘, from circa 2005. And with this laptop, I am exploring the fantasy that it should be configured to connect to the Internet, entirely using ‘‘. I am trying to replicate what the USB-stick is said to do, but in the hopes that my own achievements will be more credible. You see, I doubt that really accomplishes what it claims to accomplish.

I have to admit, that I really have no idea, what that old laptop is supposed to do, once it is connected via . This just seems like a fun project. And, there exist few services today, which will just let people connect via . What one can do is browse, using a Web-browser, and not use Google, because the geolocation services of Google tend to blacklist most of the exit nodes of .

But, wanting one additional ability, I also decided that should connect to a less-important email server of mine via IMAP, and through . What I discovered, was that the email client I was using for this does not itself support a Proxy, through its own GUI. And so I read that some command-line utilities exist for Linux, which will force the programs specified to use such a proxy.

The first utility I tried was called ‘‘. But there is a caveat with this utility, that people fail to point out. It will negotiate the email client to connect to Port 143 in plain-text, rather than in cipher-text. I had not noticed this, until my laptop had connected to my email service, in plain-text in fact. This means that a corrupt exit node would have been able to sniff my password.

This is the full extent to which I was compromised. There was really no other sign, that anybody might have tried to connect to my (subscribed, paid-for) email server, in my place. But such a single exposure was more than what I was willing to let sit.

So I immediately changed the password of this subscribed, paid-for email service, to a much harder password, before anybody else got the chance, and I am still able to use that email address fully.

But then the question lingers in my head, of how I might nevertheless connect to it via . There exists another command-line utility named ‘‘, which claims to tunnel all the TCP/IP connections of its designated program, through the Proxy, without analyzing what types of authentication may be taking place.

I tried to use as described, but only found the comforting message, that the stream could not reach the IMAP server in question. So here there was no evidence that the utility in question actually breaks TLS encryption.

But ultimately, I would still not feel comfortable using , after the experience I had with , because I need to take the idea that does not break encrypted protocol, entirely on the words of software-authors who I cannot ultimately trust. These are specialists after all. Even might eventually compromise my connection-security, even though it is not supposed to.

And so my little laptop remains useless, from any practical perspective.

Dirk

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About Tor and Multi-Protocol Port Numbers.

On a past occasion I had tried to write on Facebook – of all places – that each computer, and therefore each IP Number, has seemingly arbitrary Port Numbers that it receives packets to, primarily to prevent most connection attempts from being futile. I.e., I was stating that there is an official, assigned port number, for most types of protocol that devices communicate with over the Internet. Yes, There Are Many More types of protocols, than just those for HTTP (80), HTTPS (443), POP, SMTP, IMAP, etc..

But this proclamation of mine just serves to remind, that no matter how hard we try to convey the truth, we only end up with approximations.

It’s possible for one server-program to listen on one port number, and to accept requests for a number of protocols – all on the same port number.

One example where this happens, is with proxy-servers. Typically, they might be listening for HTTP connections, let’s say on port 8118. But then the next question people might ask when setting up their browsers could be: ‘I like sending my regular HTML text through a proxy, let’s say to filter it, but I must also forward my HTTPS requests through a proxy – or not – And one might not want to send all the browser’s data through a single SOCKS5 port, just so that the proxy-server can do some differentiation. Therefore, where should I tell my browser to forward my HTTPS traffic?’

And in most cases, the answer would be through port 8118 again .  And that’s because a typical HTTP proxy, reacts to an HTTPS request, via a CONNECT instruction, which means that it treats the encrypted data as gibberish, and then either lets it through or not so. It’s not strictly necessary for a proxy server to analyze traffic, in order to be able to forward it. Yet, there can exist some HTTP proxies, whose feature just to accept a CONNECT command has been disabled. But you can in some cases just try them out.

Another example of this would be the “Tor” anonymizing network. Its standard port number has been 9050 for some time, but a Tor node simply listens on this one port number, regardless of whether that’s to accept connections from Tor nodes someplace else on the Internet, or whether that’s to accept an outbound connection from a local proxy-server – i.e. from another program on the same computer. With Tor specifically, If in doubt, you’d simply try to fire a connection at it and see what happens, via its only listening port. But for the most part, Tor likes a SOCKS5 connection going out.

Now there has been the issue, that certain firewalls will specifically block requests to connect to port 9050 on outside machines. And so some Tor nodes have been instructed to listen on some other port number, for incoming connections. But in order to get that to work, a kind of quiet agreement has been reached between Tor users, as to which port number they’re hijacking – that port number now being one officially assigned to an existing, other protocol.

So was I half-right, or half-wrong? I was trying to state basic knowledge, which might still be taken as a first-order approximation of the real world.

Dirk