The Tor browser, arguably the best privacy-protective internet browser available for most people, is running low on bridge servers. The decline in servers affects the browser’s ability to combat censorship and provide a gateway to the open internet in places where governments and other entities tightly control access to information.
In a blog update published this week, the nonprofit Tor Project, the organization that maintains and develops the Tor software, said it currently had approximately 1,200 bridge servers, or bridges, of which 900 support the obfs4 obfuscation protocol. Bridges are private servers that provide access to users living in places where the Tor network is blocked. Tor provides users with anonymity by relaying connections to a server multiple times and, in some cases, through multiple countries.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that Tor isn’t just used by people who can’t access the internet in their country. It’s also used by people who want to hide their IP address or who don’t want their browsing activities tracked.
The Tor Project said the number of bridges, which are run by volunteers, has been decreasing since the beginning of the year.
“It’s not enough to have many bridges: eventually, all of them could find themselves in block lists,” the nonprofit said in its blog post. “We therefore need a constant trickle of new bridges that aren’t blocked anywhere yet.”
According to the Tor Project’s metrics, since mid-August to now, the top 5 countries with users connecting via bridges include (in order of users) Russia, with an average of 12,480 daily users; the U.S., with an average of 10,726 daily users; Iran, with an average of 3,738 daily users; Germany, with an average of 2,322 users; and Belarus, with an average of 1,453 users.
To address the decline in bridge servers, the Tor Project is launching a campaign to bring 200 obfs4 bridges online by the end of the year. It has rolled out modest “reward kits,” which consist of Tor hoodies, T-shirts, and stickers, for volunteers that run bridge servers for at least a year. (Remember, this is a nonprofit). The project’s campaign will end on Jan. 7, 2022.