Rangani Ranasinghe

Rangani Ranasinghe

Scientists have reviewed images taken by the Spirit rover nearly a decade ago, and have concluded that NASA may have previously overlooked evidence contained in them that could point towards them being biosignatures for past early forms of life in outer space on the planet.

 

A new study published in Nature Communications suggests rocky outcrops and regoliths formed of opaline silica that the rover photographed in the Gusev crater in 2007 potentially have these biosignatures, which are natural traces of current or past life. 

 

Experts Steven Ruff and Jack Farmer, of Arizona State University (ASU), looked at data from the rover's visit to Home Plate, a plateau of layered rocks in the Columbia Hills area of the crater.

 

It is an ancient area of eroded volcanic ash, thought to still contain an active hot spring, which has formed silica outcrops, including finger-like formations photographed by the rover.

 

 

 

 

Fossils here on Earth are one example of a biosignature of past life. They also occur in less obvious forms, including organic molecules which are left trapped in rocks and compacted mats of microbes known as stromatolites - which are the earliest forms of life here on Earth, and are found in Western Australia, and El Tatio in Chile.

 

 

Mars-life

 

 

Author:  JON AUSTIN

Source:  http://www.express.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 13 November 2016 16:19

Is my smartphone making me stupid?

1. Are we dialing it down?

Smartphones have become the media device of choice for the vast majority of people around the world. From social media to watching video clips, internet banking to keeping up to date with news, taking selfies to playing games, our smartphones provide us with our media needs – and all in the palm of our hands.

But can you have too much of a good thing? You only have to look around to see swathes of people with their faces glued to their smartphone screen, seemingly oblivious to everything else around them.

But is that to our detriment? By being constantly engaged with our technological friend, are we missing out on other things? Could we be learning and developing other skills better rather than relying on everything at the touch of a screen? Is our intelligence and its advancement suffering?

2. WATCH: World at our fingertips

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones takes a closer look at how integrated smartphones have become with our daily lives, and asks if we have to rely on them more than we need to.

3.How we use our smartphones

Click on the app icons in the interactive graphic to see how we use our smartphones for things like communication, watching videos and making transactions.

4.Lazy brains

According to a study by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, smartphones are making it easier for us to avoid thinking for ourselves.

In 2015, researchers found that smartphone users who are intuitive thinkers (meaning they are more likely to rely on gut feelings and instincts when making a decision) would frequently make use of their phone’s search engine to find a solution rather than their own brainpower.

According to the study’s co-lead author Gordon Pennycook, this means people “may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it”.

Analytical thinkers, however, are more prone to second-guess themselves and analyse a problem more logically. These type of smartphone users spent less time using their devices search engine, the study found.

Lowered intelligence

According to Pennycook, the research “provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence”.

He added, however, that it was an “open question” whether or not smartphones actually decreased intelligence, and further study was needed.

The study’s other co-lead author, Nathaniel Barr, pointed out that “our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise”.

According to “decades of research”, Barr added, “human are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind”.

Time for a digital detox?

Top tips for taking a break

You may not feel like a break from your smartphone, but a pause every now and then couldn't hurt. Here are some top tips to help you take a rest from your digital handheld friend.
  1. Turn off push notifications. We all like to be alerted to the latest news, or social media post, but we can check all that in our own time.
  2. Charge your phone outside your bedroom when you go to bed. This will stop you checking your smartphone before you fall asleep.
  3. Similarly, resist the urge to check your phone first thing in the morning. If anything was that important someone would have called.
  4. Delete your social media apps for a day or two. Your accounts won't be affected but it will stop you checking them every five minutes.
  5. If you go out, say to restaurant or drinks with friends, why not leave the smartphone at home? Enjoy real interaction without any distractions.
  6. Put the phone down, pick up a book. Or a newspaper, or a magazine. Read something that doesn't allow you to swipe away when you lose interest.
  7. Take technology breaks. Limit the amount of time you spend using your smartphone during the day by taking breaks and sticking to them.

Source : bbc.co.uk

Want to know about California’s Proposition 63, a measure to control gun ammunition sales and large magazines, which is on the state ballot this month? Google has the answer. It’s a “deceptive ballot initiative that will criminalize millions of law-abiding Californians.” So much for balanced search results.

Google presents that answer at the very top of its results, when searching for “Prop 63” or “Proposition 63,” as shown below:

google-image-1

To answer “What’s happening here,” as Medium CEO Ev Williams asked when spotting this four days ago: for all its smarts, Google is still pretty dumb.asked when spotting this four days ago: for all its smarts, Google is still pretty dumb.

Over the years, Google has increased the frequency of showing direct answers in its search results — something it calls “Featured Snippets.” The idea is that mobile users especially want fast facts, not to have to click through to a website.

That’s even a potential advantage in its forthcoming Google Home assistant. It should allow Google Home to answer questions well beyond rival Amazon Echo, because Google will rely on the entire web rather than a more limited set of curated resources, especially Wikipedia.

For example, here’s Google Home answering a question it found from the web, making use of featured snippets, that  I’d previous tested with Amazon Echo, which couldn’t do it:

This is a question Amazon Echo couldn't answer for me yesterday that Google Home got thanks to the web & featured snippets 

(NOTE: the video above might not show due to temporary problems Twitter is having).

To get these answers, Google effectively guesses (even with all that machine learning) at which site it thinks might have a definitive answer. But the downside is that when Google goes wide beyond curated sources, it makes mistakes. God only loves Christians. Dinosaurs are an indoctrination tool. A not-safe-for-work answer for eating sushi. These are real things that Google featured snippets have gotten wrong in the past.

Heck, Google still will tell you that Barack Obama is “King of the United States” based on our own article about how a featured snippet originally screwed up this answer.

google-image-2

These types of mistakes are embarrassing in web search results. They’re going to be even worse with Google Home, where Google will start reading aloud some of these crazy answers without at least the back-up of other search results. Potentially, that could even hinder the product.

Indeed, as Google Home increases the attention that featured snippets get, it’s not unlikely that we might see companies actively  workingto spam them (more than they do now), or even rival groups trying to obtain their “side” as the preferred answer that Google gives.

We’ve asked Google for comment and will update if one comes.

Source:  searchengineland.com

On Friday, the world reached peak Apple excitement when the new iPhone 7 devices became available in stores. Now that is done, people have already moved on to the iPhone 8.

 

After Apple unleashed the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus — with updated features like water-resistance, a new home button, camera improvements and no headphone jack — to the public, the next logical step is for us to turn our focus to something newer and shinier. 

Since 2017 will mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, people are anticipating that Apple will pull out all the stops with its next phone, which is yet to be officially named. Let the speculation begin. 

Here are 6 of the most exciting iPhone 8 rumors out there:

1. All-glass iPhone

Apple Inc. filed a patent for a "glass enclosure" back on July 30, 2014, which was recently approved on Sept. 6, 2016, just one day before Apple's much-anticipated iPhone 7 event. 

The patent defines the "glass enclosure" as a handheld computing device that would include an enclosure made from structural walls of transparent glass material that can be radio-transparent. The patent also states, "A laser frit bonding process may be used to hermetically seal the two glass members together to create a water resistant electronic device."

 
White iPhone 4 device featuring glass casing.

White iPhone 4 device featuring glass casing.

IMAGE: APPLE

Back in May, a reliable Apple watcher, John Gruber, mentioned on his podcast The Talk Showthat his sources believed the iPhone that followed the 7 would have an all-glass case (similar to the iPhone 4,) rather than the previously used aluminum.

In May, Nikkei reported that, CEO Allen Horng from Catcher Technology — one of Apple's main iPhone casing suppliers — said Apple plans to adopt a glass body for at least one iPhone model coming in 2016.

2. Edge-to-edge display

According to MacRumorsa complete redesign could be in store for the front of the iPhone come 2017.

It's believed the iPhone 8 will do away with one of the most consistent iPhone features: the top, bottom and side bezels, which house the home button, speaker and the front-facing camera. By doing so, Apple would achieve a new edge-to-edge phone display, potentially giving users a much broader phone screen to work with.

Concept design by Marek Weidlich, showing an iPhone with edge-to-edge display.

MacRumors suggested that this change could cause the Touch ID fingerprint scanner and the front-facing camera to be built directly into the screen's display, which means we could potentially be seeing an iPhone with no home button.

"The display itself is said to be flexible OLED rather than an LCD, allowing Apple to introduce a thinner device that consumes less power and offers a better display with higher contrast ratio and more true to life colors," MacRumors reports. "It may also feature edges that are curved on both sides."

3. 10-nanometer A11 chip

The iPhone has come a long way from the iPhone 6's formerly impressive A8 processor. The new iPhone 7 devices feature a very thin A10 Fusion chip, and according to MacRumors, the iPhone 8 models are expected to have 10-nanometer A11 chips which will improve speed once again. 

The publication reported the phone could potentially, "... also include features like long-range wireless charging and biometric additions like iris or facial scanning."

4. Wireless charging

Since the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus devices no longer have headphone jacks, if you insert wired headphones into the Lightning port you won't be able to simultaneously charge your phone.

According to a new report from Bloomberg, the iPhone 8 is rumored to have the advanced ability to charge wirelessly, which would definitely solve this issue.

While some smartphones like Samsung's Galaxy 6S can be charged by sitting them on a charging pad, Apple's wireless charging technology would allow a device to be charged through the air.

5. A digital crown

Another intriguing iPhone 8 rumor is that the device could possibly include a digital crown (like the one on the Apple Watch).r a digital crown for devices resembling iPhones and iPads. 

In case you're having a hard time picturing how the Digital Crown feature would integrate with an iPhone, a 3D designer created a video to visually present the potential concept.

 

6. A ceramic iPhone?!

After the release of the Series 2 ceramic Apple Watch Edition this year, rumors of a ceramic iPhone have been circulating. Cult of Mac's Killian Bell said, "Being four times harder than steel … ceramic would be an ideal material for the next generation of iPhone unibodies.”

Ceramic Apple Watch Edition.

Apple has praised the new watch material as strong and less susceptible to scratches, so who knows what the company has in store for us.

Source : http://mashable.com

Monday, 29 June 2015 18:30

Internet Problems, Possible Solutions

Internet has made life easier for many due to several reasons. To name a few, it is easier, faster and cheaper to communicate using the internet. It allows access to a massive pool of information while creating a platform to share ideas and experiences. It is also a popular medium of entertainment with access to a vast selection of multimedia and is an avenue to conduct various business transactions. Hence, there is no doubt that internet has a significant impact on every part of our lives.

Although the internet has made life convenient by allowing us to do everything from shopping to corresponding online, it can have adverse effects on users if they are not careful when using the internet. Some of these issues include;

  • Stealing of Personal Information: On the internet, the shared personal information of an internet user is accessible by other users. Hence one has to be very cautious of what they share in an online platform, whether it is your contact details or credit card information. Credit card information theft can easily take place when conducting financial transactions online. Although this is a common type of theft on the internet, it is not easily traceable. 
  • Inappropriate content: This is an issue that concerns mainly the underage internet users (children). As there is no way of verifying one’s identity online, determining whether the end user is a child or an adult is an impossible task. Access to such content has become easier even more with internet enabled devices such as cell phones, iPads, and tablets. Although these kinds of websites are not easily accessible, they often appear as pop-ups and add-ons in secure sites that may lead a child to accidently stumble upon such content. 
  • Viruses and malware: Viruses on the internet could lead to loss of important files on your computer, or your secure information being accessed by a third party.
  • Securing information online: One should make effort to protect one’s personal information online. One way to do this is to share your details such as contact information, credit card information only with selected people. If you get an email asking for information from a company that claims to have an account with you, it is always recommended to call their customer service to verify its truthfulness. On social networking sites too, it is advised to use some amount of privacy, and not share personal details with the public.
  • Protection from viruses: The best way to ensure the safety of your computer and data from viruses is to install anti-malware software. It is also advisable that you don’t open any emails unless you know who it is from, or click on any links received via email since this is the most common way of spreading viruses.
  • Protecting from Inappropriate content: Parents could set up parental controls on the computers. You can employ the use of kid-friendly search engines, and block pop-ups to prevent the children from accidentally stumbling upon inappropriate web content. However, even this will not ensure their safety unless you make your child aware of safe internet usage.

There are also steps you can take to avoid these problems. If not entirely, at least the risk can be significantly minimized by following these simple steps.

Due to the increase usage of the internet in our daily lives, there is a greater chance that anyone may encounter various problems related to the internet. Therefore, it is important to take necessary measures to save your computer as well as yourself from these problems. 

 

Monday, 29 June 2015 09:58

Deep Web and Tor

To someone who has just recently begun using the internet, the internet might seem vast. It contains almost everything a person requires. However, most people are probably unaware that the part of internet they can view is just less than 10% of all what is available online. By using a conventional search engine a person is merely skimming the surface, or viewing the “Surface Web”, which is a fraction of the Web that is indexed by standard search engines. The actual internet is 500 times bigger, and most of it lies in the Deep Web.

According to The Guardian, only 0.03% is accessible via Google and Bing, and the rest becomes a part of the deep web. Deep web is accessed through specialized deep web browsers and tools used for this purpose, which often ensure your anonymity as well.

Some of the tools you can use to access the deep web include:

  • Turbo10: A meta search engine that allows you to search more than 800 deep web search engines
  • BusinessResearch: Explores the business information stored in deep web
  • MedNets: Easily accessible information for healthcare professionals
  • Databases A-Z: A list containing open and closed access databases for research

Tor is also an example of such a tool. It is often used synonymously with Deep Web. Tor – The Onion Router – is a software which was introduced by privacy advocates initially. It was originally used by users who prefer to browse anonymously, and didn’t want their information to be accessed and stored by Google.  Now it is used by those who want to maintain privacy while browsing online as well as those who engage in illegal activities such as black market transactions. It is important to keep clear of these illegal content available in order to discover the hidden gems on the deep web.

Experts agree that Tor is the best tool for people with an urgent need for anonymity. When we use a browser such as Google Chrome, we are directly connected to the information. However, on the contrary, using a browser like Tor, the request for information would be bounced through several servers, before arriving at the desired page making the movements harder to trace.

Deep Web might attract criminals and criminal activities due to its anonymous nature; however there is also a brighter side to it too. As it contains access to various journals and databases not indexed by a regular search engine, it is a gold mine for the serious researcher. Hence, you may find databases such as JSTOR, National Geographic and other similar websites. It is also used by governments and intelligence agencies to exchange documents in secrecy. Deep web also serves to protect political dissidents overseas in totalitarian regimes and hiding everyday Internet traffic from surveillance.

For the serious researcher, deep web can become extremely useful. It is a powerful research tool, containing high-quality material. However it should be accessed and browsed with caution, since a lot of illegal material is also a part of the deep web. 

 

The information super highway that we simply refer to as the ‘internet’ is estimated to contain at least 4.41 billion documents. As large as it may be, the number of people who seek out this information is also massive. Google statistics indicate that there are, “over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.”

No doubt, finding what you want in this vast pool of information would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Search engines, which are the programs designed to search and retrieve documents from the internet, act as the gateway to exploring the online material. However, a search tool by itself may not ensure finding precise information. It is a combination of two elements; a search tool plus learning appropriate search techniques that will eventually ensure a successful online search.

What is a Search?

What do we mean by a search? As a source defines, a search is “the organized pursuit of information.” In an online platform, this refers to finding information you need on the internet. Internet searching is an iterative process where a person would repeatedly refine their search until they hit on the exact information they require or locate answers to their questions. A key problem that many people encounter when carrying out an online search is that their search either returns too many or too few records. While it can be very time-consuming to go through hundreds of sources, it could also be frustrating to receive limited results that do not fulfil your information requirement. In this aspect, careful construction of search strings (what you type into the search box) becomes necessary. Planning your search with appropriate search techniques, allows you to refine your search and receive what you want while saving both your time and effort.

Basic Search vs. Advanced Search

A basic search starts with a simple query. Simply by typing a single word or a phrase that we commonly refer to as ‘keywords’, a person carry out a basic search. This kind of search usually does not require any particular skill other than identifying few keywords related to what you are looking for and then typing it into the search box. This could lead to several results although the chances of what you want to find may depend on various factors. If it is a simple information requirement, one may be able to extract such information quickly by going through few results. On the contrary, if the information need is more significant where a person requires solid facts about a topic, there is a chance that the person could get lost in this vast pool of information. In this sense, searching the internet may require a person to take a step further in mastering advanced online search techniques.

Advanced search on the internet utilizes more sophisticated search techniques of online information to increase the chances of finding out what you want. These type of search techniques are useful particularly when carrying out a search using a search engine, database or a library catalogue. Using advanced search techniques allows you to either narrow or expand your search based on certain principles. In this way, a person can find what they want easily with less effort. Most search engines also offer several advanced search features for its users. It is worth exploring these features prior to embarking on learning advanced search techniques.

Techniques of Advanced Searching

USING KEYWORDS: This is the simplest way to search the internet. Identifying correct keywords for the topic is the backbone of every search. No matter which search technique you use, if the keywords identified are not related to the subject of concern, that search would retrieve irrelevant records. Identifying keywords may require you to run a quick search to see what’s available on the topic and make a list of them. Dictionaries, Thesauri’s, journal articles or any other material related to the subject can be useful in identifying possible search terms. Moreover, capital sensitivity should be considered when typing keywords into a search box. As some search engines are capital sensitive, it may return documents that have capitalized words only, leaving the documents that have uncapitalized words, narrowing the number of search results returned. It is always desirable to keep your search terms uncapitalized if you want to receive results from either form.

PHRASE SEARCHING: This allows you to use a phrase as your search term. It looks for words together as a group rather than seeking individual words separately. This type of searching is carried out through use of quotation marks or speech marks. Phrase searching becomes necessary in instances where two words put together makes more sense than searching each word individually. The following example shows that when taken individually the terms may denote different meanings, retrieving completely irrelevant results.

Example:

“distance learning” 

“drug addiction”

PROXIMITY SEARCHING: This allows you to search for words within close proximity or within a certain distance of another. W and N are the symbols used in proximity searches. W represent the word “within” while N represents the word “Near”. A proximity operator is composed by using a symbol (W or N) and adding a number in front of it (to specify the number of words).

Search using proximity operators

Near Operator (N) – N5 indicates that the search has to be within five words of one another, regardless of the order in which they appear.

Within Operator (W) – W5 indicate that the search has to find words if they are within five words of one another, in the order in which you entered them.

BOOLEAN SEARCHING: Boolean operators are used for linking or combining search terms. In this way, a search engine, a database or a catalogue will know what you are looking for while making your search fast and efficient.

The most common Boolean operators include AND, OR and NOT.

AND – This Boolean operator is used to narrow a search by retrieving documents that contain all your keywords. When you use AND between your keywords, it will return records that have all the keywords you type, be it two, three or more.

Example:

Literacy AND Africa

Literary AND children AND Africa

OR – This Boolean operator is used if you want to find either of the keywords in your search term. This is useful particularly when your search term has synonyms. When you use OR in between the search terms, it will retrieve documents that have either of the terms, obtaining more results. More than two words can be joined together using OR.

Example:

Sleep disorder OR insomnia

dogs or cats

NOT – This eliminates the documents containing a particular term. Note that some databases expect the word AND to be added in front of the NOT, so you may need to refer to individual help section in databases, catalogues, etc.

Example:

Cats NOT leopards

Pets NOT dogs

NESTING OR NESTED SEARCHES: This is when we combine several search techniques such as Boolean operators, phrase searching, truncation, synonyms, wildcards to create more complex search strategies.  Each part of the research topic is considered separately when formulating a nesting search. This is considered as a complex search technique and it is advisable to use it only if you know how to use it correctly. Wrong usage can lead to loosing relevant search results.

Example:

The use of multimedia technologies in higher education

A search for this topic is as follows:

"multimedia technolog*" AND ("higher education" OR universit*)

TRUNCATION: Truncation symbol (*) allows you to search for a range of words within the same root in a search engine or a database. Using truncation, a search can be designed to retrieve a range of words that has the same word stem.

Example:

Child* - Child, Children, Childhood

Bank* - Bank, Banking, Bankrupt

Teen* - Teen, Teens, Teenager

WILDCARDS: Wildcard symbols, usually a question mark (?) or an asterisk (*), can vary from one database to another. This allows you to substitute a character as a stand-in for any word or letter in a keyword.

Example:

Transfer?able     - would retrieve transferable and transferrable

Wom?n                - would retrieve woman and women

Globali?ation      -would retrieve globalisation and globalization

Conclusion

The search techniques that you should use to search for online information very much depends on the type of material you require. If you are conducting serious research for an academic paper, thesis, etc., you may need to consider advanced search techniques that are listed above. On the contrary, if you require to conduct a quick search to find out information on a general topic, typing few keywords into a search box would do the job.  The bottom line is that there is no fixed way to conduct an effective internet search. If you type a few keywords and find what you want, then your search is successful. If not, you can keep refining your search until you hit the jackpot although it may be time consuming. Advanced search techniques becomes useful particularly when you have to carry out a specific search with less time and effort. Yet, advanced search technique itself will not ensure finding precise, authoritative information on a given topic. Careful evaluation of Internet resources using your critical thinking and common sense will also play a significant role in this regard. 

References

  1. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/
  2. http://www.open.ac.uk/infoskills-researchers/search-techniques.htm
  3. http://searchmobilecomputing.techtarget.com/definition/searching
  4. http://www.learnthenet.com/how-to/advanced-web-search/
  5. http://www.external.shl.lon.ac.uk/info_skills/databases/advanced_searching.php
  6. http://full.nkp.cz/search97/doc/tips/sea00001.htm

 

Friday, 26 June 2015 01:32

The Onion Router: Should I use it?

BusinessWeek magazine describes it as "perhaps the most effective means of defeating the online surveillance efforts of intelligence agencies around the world". The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) calls it "the king of high-secure, low-latency internet anonymity." Another source describes it as "a tool for anonymous communication that’s so secure that even the world’s most sophisticated electronic spies haven’t figured out how to crack it.”

Some feel threatened by it. Others feel protected by it. Those who feel threatened, try to destroy it. Those who benefit, try to invest on it. Regarded as the “largest deployed anonymity network to date”, Tor’s success as a sophisticated security tool, has dragged it to the forefront of attention from governments, policy makers, media, and many more.

This article explores the Tor browser, its usage and the extent to which it is a useful tool for the regular internet user.

Tor Browser

The Onion Router, aka “Tor” is a network of servers developed to browse the internet anonymously. Initially developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory as a means of protecting government communication, Tor website describe it as a “network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.” It is a free software and an open network that protects users against a common form of internet surveillance known as “traffic analysis”.

Tor Browser allows access to the Tor network. To make the user anonymous, Tor disguises the users' identity by moving the traffic around different Tor servers, thereby encrypting the traffic making it difficult to trace back to the end user. A source compares this process to “a tight huddle of people passing letters around. Once in a while a letter leaves the huddle, sent off to some destination. If you can't see what's going on inside the huddle, you can't tell who sent what letter based on watching letters leave the huddle.” For those who attempt to see where the traffic is coming from, would only see traffic coming from random nodes on the Tor network, rather than the computer of an individual user.

Tor User

The actual reach of Tor is estimated to be 2.5 million daily users, of which majority of users are coming from US and Europe. Russia, Iran, Vietnam, and China are also some of the top countries with users. There is no actual statistics available to estimate the type of people using the Tor network. Yet it is common knowledge that Tor is used by people for both noble and humble means, a distinct factor that defines its user base.

On a positive note, Tor website identifies five categories of Tor users; namely family & friends, businesses, activists, media, military & law enforcement. Families use Tor to preserve their privacy and protect their children when they are online; be it keeping internet activities away from the advertisers, accessing sites that are blocked by the local service provider or participating in socially sensitive communication on chat rooms, web forums, etc.

Journalists use Tor as a secure communication mode with sources and for researching on sensitive topics. Non-governmental organizations use it to connect to their home websites while they are in a foreign land. Activists use it to safeguard their members’ privacy and security online while Corporations use Tor as a safe way to conduct competitive analysis and protect sensitive procurement patterns from eavesdroppers.

Military use Tor to protect their military interests and operations, open source intelligence gathering and to protect themselves from physical harm. Law enforcement uses Tor for visiting or surveilling web sites without leaving government IP addresses in their web logs, and for security during sting operations.

On a negative note, Tor is also used by criminals, drug lords, and hacktivist groups to carry out illegitimate activities. A good example of this is the recently closed down Silk Road, the online black market which operate as Tor hidden service and accessed through Tor browser. The level of anonymity and security guaranteed by Tor leaves ample space for criminals to freely and easily carry out their criminal business and transactions in a secure environment.

Using Tor

Like any other browser, Tor has a simple interface that is very much similar to Firefox. Not surprising, Tor is a Firefox based browser. A source indicates that Tor is Firefox 10 with specific features added to the toolbar. A normal internet user may not find any difference between a regular browser and Tor in terms of its browsing capacity. However, when faced with specific situations where an individual is compelled to seek extra security online to protect himself, Tor could be the ideal choice.

Tor’s key strength lies in its capacity to anonymize the user and its ability to ensure maximum security online. Its security features are considered the best in comparison to other browsers. Even so, Tor is far from perfect mainly on the ground that it is slow in speed and unable to ensure “complete” anonymity. As it goes through so many relays to anonymize the user, Tor is slow compared to other browsers, though my personal experience reveal to the contrary. Moreover, institutions like US National Security Agency (NSA) have the capacity to find the end user if necessary that raise a question about the level of anonymity guaranteed by Tor browser. Tor website explains “Tor can't solve all anonymity problems. It focuses only on protecting the transport of data. You need to use protocol-specific support software if you don't want the sites you visit to see your identifying information.”

Internet user: Anonymity vs. Security?

A regular internet user, who use the internet to browse Facebook, Youtube or any other general information need, may not necessarily require a browser like Tor. The user is concerned about the security of his personal identifying information while on the internet rather than maintaining anonymity online. This kind of online security is possible through enabling security settings on any regular browser. Although anonymity can be a contributing factor for ensuring privacy and security online, only anonymity itself may not guarantee complete security of an internet user. Consequently, Tor becomes particularly significant when the question of “anonymity” comes into the picture.

Why remain anonymous online? Most would perceive that those who have something to hide as well as those who engage in illegitimate activities would prefer to stay anonymous online. As to the general internet user, the anonymity factor becomes significant only in particular situations where the internet poses an actual threat or harm to a person. Again this should be a matter of personal choice where an individual would evaluate a situation and decide the necessity of remaining anonymous on the internet. One’s perception of what you need to protect should determine whether to remain anonymous on the internet. However, even if you have nothing to hide, adopting good security practices and taking every measure to protect yourself when you use the internet is a smart idea. Also in certain scenarios, it is a compulsory requirement, a must on the basis of the task/work we engage on the World Wide Web; whether it is safe communication platform for children, journalists, military or activists.

Conclusion

The growth of the internet in the last two decades have pushed forward the necessity of safeguarding individual online privacy rights as never before. Tor plays a critical role in giving the internet user the choice to remain anonymous thereby increasing privacy and security online. Tor is an ideal gateway for those want to speak and read freely online. It is an avenue for free expression.

Not to forget, Tor is also a gateway for criminals, hackers, and others who engage in unethical activities. Tor’s ability for masking individual identities have led to activities that have become national and global security threats. In this sense, suspicious eye of the governments on Tor users is not a surprise. 

Success of Tor lies in tackling these challenges to ensure the highest security for the regular internet users. The very attitude that Tor is used by “those who have something to hide” should be done away with. Tor image as a safe browser for genuine internet transactions should be uplifted. Tor needs to work on its image as a safe browser for every individual who wishes to take control of their privacy and security back in their hands.

References:

  1. Tor official website - www.torproject.org
  2. Tor Project's struggle to keep the 'dark net' in the shadows - http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28886465
  3. What is Tor and should I use it. - http://lifehacker.com/what-is-tor-and-should-i-use-it-1527891029
  4. Go Online without Getting Snooped: Tor (The Onion Router) – http://www.instructables.com/id/Go-Online-without-Getting-Snooped-Tor-The-Onion-/
  5. Tor stands strong against the NSA, but your browser can bring you down-A Look at The Onion Router (Tor) - http://lwn.net/Articles/138242/Anonymity and the Tor Network - https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/09/anonymity_and_t_1.html 
  6. http://www.pcworld.com/article/2052149/tor-stands-strong-against-the-nsa-but-your-browser-can-bring-you-down.htm
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