[tor-talk] Teaching Non-technical Folks About Tor...

Joseph Lorenzo Hall joehall at gmail.com
Mon Mar 5 22:25:06 UTC 2012

Hi tor-talk!

This is a request for input. Pedagogical input, but I'm also aware of
how crazy smart you all are in general!

About six months ago, one of you described vaguely how your servers
were seized by German cops and you explained to the police how Tor
works using envelopes within envelopes.  I had the thought that this
kind of a technique could be really helpful in teaching non-technical
folks how some aspects of Tor works through a hands-on demonstration.

This semester, I'm teaching a class of upper-division undergraduate
students in a Communications department at NYU about privacy.  I want
them to know more about Tor, and thankfully I have Runa and Aaron
stopping by my class. woo!

However, I sat down recently and tried to sketch out how an in-class
hands-on exercise might work that explained some of the core features
of Tor.  Here is the result:

https://josephhall.org/tor/tor-exercise.text (Markdown input)

This is my first draft. It really only works with a small class (mine
is 11) or a sub-set of a larger class.  It also doesn't let the
students choose much about the messaging (this is to avoid
distractions like the hunky guy getting a bunch of love letters during
an in-class exercise! ... or more negative versions of the same.).

However, it has some serious flaws... for example, the students don't
"build circuits" through successive tunnels; the circuits are sort of
handed to them.  Also, the way it works right now the instructor is a
central big brother node.  I have tried to think about ways students
could be assigned a message and recipient and then roll dice to decide
the circuit path, but nothing seems terribly workable (and I don't
want it to get much more complex!).  Another self-criticism is that
it's not immediately apparent what part of this who charade Tor takes
care of. ::)

So, having a real physical demonstration of onion-routing may be
unrealistic... but I'm wondering if you all have comments or better
ideas about how to make it realistic without making it terribly
complex (Ideally, smart high school or grammar school students could
be taught about Tor using this kind of an exercise).

best and thanks, Joe

Joseph Lorenzo Hall
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Media, Culture and Communication
New York University

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