Staying Safe Online in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia with TOR
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Staying Safe Online in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia with TOR

Aleksander Jess
Senior Content Marketer & Technical Expert

ITMAGINATION encourages the use of tor for legal uses only, and to use it to safely connect to the internet in areas of war, such as Ukraine.

War in Ukraine is still underway. The Ukrainian nation is bravely fighting off the aggressors, as the whole world unites to aid the defenders, and imposing severe sanctions on Russia, and Belarus.

As protests in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other cities gain power, more and more people are being detained for standing against the regime. On the other side of the barricade, there are the people of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and numerous other cities that need to communicate with each other without the fear of exposing their identity, and their location.

Luckily, there are fairly simple solutions for everybody to hide themselves from the prying eyes of malicious third parties. One of them is TOR (The Onion Router). The idea goes back to mid 1990s, when people started to look for a way to protect their privacy online. In 1995, three researchers, David Goldschlag, Mike Reed, and Paul Syverson, at the U.S. Naval Research Lab (NRL), created the prototype of the network. 

Are You Sure I Will Be Safe?

Yes. If you follow the rules of common sense, then there should be no way in which you will find yourself in danger. Of course, there are some attempts at anonymizing users, though they rarely work, and TOR is among the safest forms of communications in this scenario.

What Are The Rules?

  • Disable JavaScript;
  • Do not use any personally identifiable information;
  • Assume all parties are hostile until you have proved otherwise;
  • Do not use social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and others;
  • Use chat apps that encrypt your communication by default. Use Signal, instead of Telegram. It has largely the same features, with much better privacy. The link to download the app is here;
  • While using any secure browser, do not maximize the window of the app. It makes identification of users much easier;
  • Turn your location services off on your device;

TOR (The Onion Router)

Regardless of your opinion on onions, the only tears here will be the tears of joy. TOR could be the most popular solution to circumvent censorship or staying safe while relaying news in times of war. 

As always, it’s not without any drawbacks – do not expect websites to load quickly. Waiting until a video loads is not as pleasant as watching normal content, therefore most of the content on the .onion sites is heavily text-based.

So, how to set everything up?

Windows/Linux/macOS

  • Go to https://www.torproject.org/download/ and click the button to download the browser for your platform. Windows (if in doubt, choose the 32 bit one), Linux (if in doubt, choose the 32 bit version), macOS (it should work on M1 Macs) 
  • Install the downloaded file
  • For Ukrainians, the process is over – connecting to the network using the default settings is enough

Final recommendation is to enable the “Safer” setting in the privacy settings at about:preferences#privacy.


Consider enabling the option to “Block dangerous and deceptive content.”

Additional setup for users in Russia & Belarus

Authorities in these two countries do not really like the freedom, and security that the network gives. This is why you need to complete some additional steps

  • Click “Tor Network Settings”
  • This will show you the TOR settings inside the browser. You want to be looking at the “Bridges” Section

You are faced with two options now. One is the easier one, and it pretty much just works. The second one requires following just a couple more steps. The choice between the two is yours to make, though if it’d be up to us, we would choose the simpler one.


The “It Just Works” Approach

Use a built-in “snowflake” bridge. Wait a few minutes for the connection. Yes, this approach will make you wait longer at first, though it is the simplest way to circumventing censorship. 


The “I Don’t Mind A Couple Of Additional Steps” Approach

The second way is maybe more time-consuming; however, you should be able to connect to the network faster.

Click “Select All”, and copy them by right-clicking the selection, and clicking “copy”.

  • Go back to the browser;
  • Select the option to “Provide a bridge”, and paste these codes in the text field below it;
  • Change the privacy settings at about:preferences#privacy. Use, at the least (!), the “Safer” option;

Android

  • Go to the Play Store, and download the app. The app we have linked to is the only official Tor Browser there. Do not use any other apps;


Additional setup for users in Russia & Belarus

Here, we have to configure the browser to be able to use it. The steps will be similar to the ones for desktops.

  • Click on the cog icon after you open the app. The icon will be similar to this one
  • , and will be in the upper-right corner of your screen;


  • Choose the “Config Bridge” option;
  • Since you are on your phone, I am guessing you would rather use the “It Just Works” approach. After tapping on the “Config Bridge” option, enable “Use a Bridge” option;
  • Three options just activated. Choose “snowflake”;
  • Go back to the starting screen of the Tor Browser, and connect to the network. The option you have selected takes more time to launch. However, it is the least problematic one, and should bypass the internet censorship efforts;

Aaaaand we are in! What now?

What to do when you are in?

If you are confused what to do, and what sites to visit, you may start at the Hidden Wiki at http://zqktlwiuavvvqqt4ybvgvi7tyo4hjl5xgfuvpdf6otjiycgwqbym2qad.onion/. Content available there is family-friendly, and SFW. Moreover, there are no mythical Dark Web links there. Of course, it would be nice to have Google… Worry not, there is a worthy alternative in the form of DuckDuckGo at https://duckduckgogg42xjoc72x3sjasowoarfbgcmvfimaftt6twagswzczad.onion/

If you have to share some confidential documents or materials with one of the publications or journalists, there is a website called “Secure Drop“. It’s available at http://sdolvtfhatvsysc6l34d65ymdwxcujausv7k5jk4cy5ttzhjoi6fzvyd.onion/, and the documents you share there will remain encrypted, and anonymous. If you need to share some text with the people in Ukraine, then of course ZeroBin is the choice for that. Available at http://zerobinftagjpeeebbvyzjcqyjpmjvynj5qlexwyxe7l3vqejxnqv5qd.onion/, it makes the text shared secure.

Furthermore, chatting over TOR is indeed possible. One of the options, Keybase, is a great example of a secure app. The service available at http://keybase5wmilwokqirssclfnsqrjdsi7jdir5wy7y7iu3tanwmtp6oid.onion/ is free of charge and safe.

If you are looking to read some news from one of the Western sources, then there are a couple of options for you:

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