As I was browsing the Top Paid apps section on my iPad last night, I was surprised to come across an app called Onion Browser. Not because it’s yet another 3rd party web browser app, but the fact that it’s one of the only iOS web browsers that tunnels web traffic over the TOR network (“The Onion Network” for short). What it essentially does is let you surf the web in complete anonymity by routing your connection through multiple servers before reaching its destination. Here’s how wikipedia describes it:
Tor is a system intended to enable online anonymity. Tor client software routes Internet traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of servers in order to conceal a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity, including “visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms”, back to the user and is intended to protect users’ personal freedom, privacy, and ability to conduct confidential business by keeping their internet activities from being monitored.
“Onion routing” refers to the layered nature of the encryption service: The original data are encrypted and re-encrypted multiple times, then sent through successive Tor relays, each one of which decrypts a “layer” of encryption before passing the data on to the next relay and, ultimately, its destination. This reduces the possibility of the original data being unscrambled or understood in transit.
So instead of turning on the Private Browsing feature for Safari on your iPhone/iPad, Onion Browser takes it a few steps further and gives you multiple layers of encryption. So what would you want to use it for you ask? Well if you’re one of those individuals who are paranoid about your privacy (you feel your ISP or even the government is watching your every move), Tor will give you that piece of mind when going online. Or more likely, your boss has restricted certain websites in the office (TMZ?) and the only way to feed your daily addiction is via a tor-enabled browser. And if you live in countries that practice online censorship (no Facebook or Twitter), Tor will come through nicely. In fact, up until last year, whenever I made trips to China (Shanghai), I’d typically used Tor with Firefox on my Macbook, thus allowing me to check into social networking sites like Facebook, and even Youtube.
As for Onion Browser, it’s a no-frills web browsing app, so don’t expect bookmarking, tabs and all the stuff you’ve grown accustomed to. But it does support user-agent spoofing (hides fact your using iOS device when visiting sites), the ability to block third party or all cookies and you can the current change IP address with a tap of a button. One other thing to keep in mind is that when relying on Tor, your connection is significantly slower than usual (as it has to connect through various servers before loading desired site), so the same applies here. Finally, it appears that the app won’t work for those in China or Iran due to “online censorship techniques using deep-packet inspection (DPI)”.
Onion Browser is available now as a universal app for $0.99.
Mike Tigas, Onion Browser, – $0.99
Onion Browser is a Tor-capable web browser that lets you access the internet privately and anonymously.
NOTE: glitch w/”New Identity” in landscape mode will be fixed in 1.1.1, submitted for release next week.
A portion of the sales proceeds will be donated to the Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Onion Browser is open-source software. (See onionbrowser.com for more details on donation & source code.)
• Internet access tunneled over the Tor onion router network:
- Websites do not see your real IP address.
- Your connection is encrypted before it leaves your device, providing protection against snooping by ISPs or people who share a WiFi connection with you.
- Tunnel bypasses restrictive firewalls: you can access the entire Internet from behind ISPs or corporate connections, or when inside countries that practice online censorship.
- Access websites on the “dark net” of anonymous .onion web sites, only accessible in the Tor network.
• User-Agent spoofing: hides the fact that you are using an iPhone/iPad from websites you visit.
• Ability to block third party cookies or all cookies.
• Can change IP address and clear cookies/history/cache in one button.
NOTE: Web browsing through the anonymization network will be significantly slower than through a non-tunneled browser.
Due to online censorship techniques using deep-packet inspection (DPI), this app does not currently function in Iran or China.
Onion Browser is not affiliated with nor endorsed by the Tor Project. Onion Browser carries no guarantee from The Tor Project about quality, suitability or anything else.