Turkey now blocking access to Tor network in new censorship push

19 Dec 2016

Man wearing protest t-shirt against Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Image: Tinxi/Shutterstock

In another blow for internet freedoms for the people of Turkey, an online watchdog within the country found that the current administration has now blocked access to the Tor anonymous network.

So far under the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, access to a number of online services – particularly social media services – has been restricted, or cut off, on a number of occasions.

Aside from users of more popular sites like YouTube or Twitter finding themselves unable to access the sites, the failed coup in Turkey saw the government engage in a full-scale online war with groups like Wikileaks to prevent the spread of internal strife.

One of the technologies used to bypass these government blocks, the Tor anonymous network, has now been blocked within the country.

The online watchdog group Turkey Blocks has identified and verified that a number of internet service providers have now configured their networks to block Tor users.

The free virtual private network (VPN) has exploded in popularity in recent years, as countries expand their cybersecurity laws to allow for them to have an increased ability to snoop on unsuspecting citizens in the name of state security.

This latest effort, Turkey Blocks said, has moved the country’s level of online censorship from “moderate to severe in character” and will allow the state fine-grained control of the flow of information in a “walled garden”.

Will ‘change the nature of internet usage over years to come’

Users of commercially available VPNs – typically used by people within a country to watch or read content not legally available in their own country – have also been affected, according to Turkey Blocks.

However, a silver lining exists for more technically skilled Tor users who know how to use the bridged model built into Tor to evade the nationwide block, similar in design to the one used to circumvent censorship in neighbouring Syria.

“Network restrictions imposed by the government will become absolute for many internet users, even those who were previously able to work around frequent mass-censorship events with relative ease,” the group said.

“The new measures are thus likely to change the nature of internet usage over years to come, diminishing media freedom and freedom of opinion and expression in Turkey.”

Man wearing protest t-shirt against Turkey President Recep Erdoğan. Image: Tinxi/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic