The number of active connections to the anonymous Tor web tool doubled to 1.2 million in August.
The figure was revealed on the Tor Metrics Portal, which showed a marked spike in the number of Tor connections, which usually averages around 550,000. Tor's Roger Dingledine has issued a statement confirming the figure, adding that the reason for the increase remains unknown.
"The number of Tor clients running appears to have doubled since August 19 and it's not just a fluke in the metrics data – it appears that there really are twice as many Tor clients running as before," he wrote.
"There's a slight increase (worsening) in the performance measurements, but it's hard to say if that's a real difference. So while there are a bunch of new Tor clients running, it would seem they're not doing much. Anybody know details? It's easy to speculate (Pirate Browser publicity gone overboard? People finally reading about the NSA thing? Botnet?) But some good solid facts would sure be useful."
Members of the Tor community have since mirrored Dingledine's surprise. One Tor community member posting under the name Mick suggested that the increase could be due to the recently launched PirateBay's PirateBrowser. "I suspect PirateBrowser, given that PirateBay users probably outnumber privacy lovers by two-to-three orders of magnitude," he wrote.
The PirateBrowser was launched by the PirateBay in August and is designed to let users get around internet service providers' (ISPs) online blockades. The browser is a preconfigured bundle for the Firefox Tor client (Vidalia), though it doesn't offer the same web anonymity as the regular Tor Browser.
Others, like community member Grarpamp, have been more suspicious, arguing that it is the result of a botnet or explorative cyber attack.
"Too big a double in under a week for me to believe it's natural growth based on news or some promo somewhere. I'd guess it got included in some app. A botnet fits perfect. Or it's some sort of analysis, attack or flood," wrote Grarpamp.
Tor is a free service designed to let people surf the internet anonymously by directing internet traffic through a volunteer network of more than 3,000 relays to conceal the user's location.
The process was previously believed to make web users untrackable, however earlier in August reports broke claiming the FBI has found a way to track people using the Tor Browser. Since the reports broke an exploit pertaining to be the one used by the FBI has appeared on the Metasploit penetration testing forum.
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