Is Comcast coming down on customers who use the Tor Browser? That seems to be the case according to a report by DeepDownWeb. The Internet service provider is said to be contacting subscribers who are using the software, stating that if they continue to use said browser, their service will be terminated. Why? Because the company deems Tor as an illegal service.
"Users who try to use anonymity, or cover themselves up on the internet, are usually doing things that aren't so-to-speak legal," one Comcast agent told a customer. "We have the right to terminate, fine, or suspend your account at any time due to you violating the rules."
Ouch. The comment indicates that Comcast may be monitoring the online activities of its customers to determine if they're staying within the Acceptable Use Policy. Under "Technical restrictions," prohibited equipment and servers include file sharing and proxy services and servers. The company already allegedly monitors its Internet lanes to spot downloaders of pirated media and software.
According to another Comcast representative, the company only investigates "the specifics" of an account if a court order is provided. If Comcast is forced to provide customer information, then the company contacts the individual first so that they can hire a lawyer. If they do hire a lawyer, then Comcast hands over the case and moves on.
The Tor Browser connects to the Tor network and allows the user to surf the Internet without leaving any traces. The browser is a great tool for those who want to remain anonymous online, but it can also be used to surf for illegal material including child pornography and drugs. Just like many ISPs cracking down on newsgroup access, ISPs may now be viewing the Tor network in a similar light.
The Tor Browser works by accessing a list of Tor nodes from a directory server. The client then picks a random path via other users to the destination server; direct routes are never used. That means if the Tor Browser user visits another site, a different, random path is chosen. You can read a good explanation on how Tor works here via the Tor Project.
The Tor Browser became highly popular after Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was spying on Web surfers. Over 2 million people now use the Tor Browser, down from the nearly 6 million users tracked one year ago (September 2013). The drop in usage could be related to new anonymous features found in current Web browsers.
A Comcast representative recently said that the company does not monitor browser usage or Web surfing, nor is the company contacting customers using the Tor Browser. Still, Comcast is now listed as a "Bad ISP" by the Tor Project, meaning that the company is not "friendly" to the Tor Network.