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Tor, the anonymity network, had a massive spike in the number of active clients since August 19th. Prior to the 19th, the network averaged approximately 500,000 active users, but at present, that number has increased by more than double to 1,400,000.

Community members initially suspected that the traffic increase could be contributed to recent concerns over privacy.

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Some growth based on these concerns seems plausible given the numerous issues that have crept up as of late. However, it is unlikely that this is the sole explanation for a number of reasons.

First, there were several instances of privacy concerns raised over the last couple of months, yet the total number of Tor users did not fluctuate much over that period of time.

If the user increase was a direct reaction to the NSA leaks, the multitude of secure email services shutting down, or some other event, one would assume that it would have occurred much closer to the event.

Second, this sudden increase in user activity happened almost simultaneously in multiple countries across the world (e.g. Albania, The Bahamas, Brazil, Germany, Russia, South Africa and the US), implying that all countries distribute and react to the news in identical fashion.

Another potential source contributing to the increase in Tor traffic was the release of the PirateBrowser, which occurred on August 10th.

The PirateBrowser is a package created by the Pirate Bay that utilizes the Tor client, FireFox Portable and FoxyProxy for the purpose of bypassing online censorship. As this occurred on the 10th, it is also unlikely to have solely caused this spike.

The last and seemingly more likely hypothesis is that the user surge is coming from a botnet.

As mentioned earlier, the increase occurred in distributed fashion across multiple countries, but began on or around the 19th in each as if someone toggled an “on” switch.

 

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