An Elaborate Node Network
If you’re a user of the dark web, then you’re already familiar with the Tor browser. Most online users enter the dark web through this encrypted browser. While exploring the internet using Tor, the user will enjoy a layer of anonymity, as the user’s true IP address remains hidden through the Tor network. And, for those collecting open source intelligence, browsing online without creating an obvious technical fingerprint means more obscured investigations.
The Tor network is comprised of an intricate network of relays, also known as nodes. Each bit of traffic that passes through the Tor network transitions through different types of nodes for optimum security.
When first entering the Tor network, you will enter through a guard node. The owners of these entry nodes can see your true IP address as you connect.
After entering the network, you would typically transition through at least two middle relay nodes. Middle relay nodes receive online traffic, then pass it on to another node. Middle nodes typically achieve faster network speeds and provide some obscurity for hiding the user’s actual IP address.
Just as the Tor network contains entry nodes, it also contains exit nodes. These are the last nodes traffic will transition through prior to reaching its final destination. As traffic will pass through these nodes last, the traffic will appear to have originated at the exit node’s IP address.
One final type of Tor node is a bridge. A bridge node is an alternative entry point to the Tor network that is not listed publicly. These types of nodes can be accessed safely from your home or organization’s network. More crucially, these nodes can be used for a specific online mission: highly advanced open source intelligence collection.
Tor Bridges: Circumventing Cyber Scrutiny
Most Tor nodes appear publicly online. This makes them susceptible to blocking by organizations that wish to prevent anyone from accessing the dark web. Similarly, anyone on the internet can download and access these Tor nodes—which means, anyone could potentially discover the node you’re using. However, bridge nodes provide an additional layer of anonymity: Since they don’t appear on any public lists, bridge nodes are more difficult for random online users—or even skilled adversaries—to identify.
Through the use of bridge nodes, online operators may experience increased security when browsing within the Tor network. Though an additional layer of security might seem unnecessary while working with an encrypted browser, the Tor network does not provide total obscurity or safety; in fact, hackers can overtake these nodes. Once nodes find themselves in the hands of hackers, every user who accesses the node will be at risk of the hacker exploiting that access and uncovering their investigations. In this case, bridge nodes might serve as a safer option for Tor access, since they’re not so easily recognized.
But there’s a huge misconception surrounding the safety of Tor. Bridge nodes still don’t offer a full-proof solution for secure online research. While Tor bridges might increase your anonymity when performing dark web research, you won’t appear entirely off the grid. In fact, your investigative activities and identity could still be at risk of discovery. Online entities, such as third-party sites, can track your digital trail—the digital artifacts you leave behind when browsing the web. Hackers can also take over the node you’re accessing, like we mentioned earlier. You need a way to manage your attribution, perform research, and protect yourself from innocuous or malicious online actors. A platform that masks your digital fingerprint as you collect data provides the most effective and secure solution, particularly for OSINT operators navigating the Tor network.
Implementing Bridge Nodes for Online Research
As bridge nodes are not public, you must request to use them. You can access bridge nodes by visiting the Tor Project’s bridge nodes page, by emailing the Tor Project, or by leveraging Moat to grab bridge nodes from the Tor browser. Once you have gained access to these nodes, you may begin to perform more anonymous research on the dark web.
Advanced OSINT Training: Use Tor Bridges
For OSINT operators, bridge nodes provide a potentially lesser-known option for increased anonymity during the collection of dark web information. Other advanced OSINT techniques include Google Dorking and using the Internet Archive for online research. You can also learn step-by-step instructions on subjects like Tor Bridges from our cyber experts at the Academy—just attend a virtual training webinar. However, the ultimate way to manage your attribution while using the Tor browser is by using a comprehensive platform, like Nfusion.