Security

ORC – Anonymous Cloud Storage Helps Protect Investigative Journalism

ORC stands for Onion Routed Cloud, which is an anonymous cloud storage network. It is a free and open-source project. ORC allows anonymous file-sharing online without the risk of leaking them to the Internet.

Why Is Anonymous Cloud Storage Important?

When governments around the world are peeking into everyone’s life, Journalists and activists around the globe are finding it difficult to communicate safely on the Internet.

Journalists around the globe are being murdered, facing death threats as a consequence of their journalism. If not put under law, even social networking sites can also threaten freedom in a free country.

Facebook has blocked access within Thailand to a group with 1 million members that discusses the country’s king, after the Thai government threatened the company with legal action.

The Guardian – Facebook blocks access to group criticising Thailand’s monarchy

It is not just one case. There have been numerous cases where social networking sites have been spotted taking actions against activists, not Governments or their allies.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook did not block accounts that clearly violated the company’s hate-speech policy.

Facebook Inc. employees charged with policing the platform were watching. By March of this year, they concluded Mr. Singh not only had violated the company’s hate-speech rules but qualified as dangerous, a designation that takes into account a person’s off-platform activities, according to current and former Facebook employees familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal – Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics

The Guardian and Wall Street Journal have both covered censorship stories happening around the globe.

It is clear that social networking sites can not be trusted when sharing secret information, especially when the information is about the ruling Government or its allies.

How ORC works?

Onion Routed Cloud is a decentralized network built to share information anonymously. ORC works by following the end-to-end encryption of information and data shared on the network. The end-to-end encryption makes data private and secure when it’s sent over the network.

To make communication and data sharing anonymous, ORC uses tor hidden services to coordinate peers. Peer locations are anonymous, and data never leaves the network. Files pieces are aggressively replicated and stored on different sections of the network.

How ORC can help journalists, activists, and those who love privacy?

ORC is an open-source project. It is free and can easily be deployed on any Linux distribution. You can voluntarily run the ORC server and become part of a big network helping democracies around the World. The more peers are in the network, the stronger and faster it will be.

If you are a journalist, you can visit any ORC server using the Tor browser and share or receive data from your sources.

How to deploy ORC server?

The only difficult part of deploying an ORC server is deciding to deploy an ORC server. Once you have decided to run an ORC server, later parts are easy.

There are three ways of deploying an Onion Routed Cloud. First is the automatic installation by DigitalOcean, the second is installing it manually, and the third is using the .deb package. I will show you all three ways in this article.

Deploy Onion Routed Cloud on DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean provides Onion Routed Cloud as an application in its marketplace. All you need to do is click ‘Deploy’, and the script will automatically configure ORC on a Ubuntu 18.04 server.

I tried other cloud services; unfortunately, none other than DigitalOcean provides ORC in their marketplaces.

Once the deployment is complete, you will need to log in to the server using SSH. The first-time login will walk you through the ORC setup. It’ll ask you to hit ‘Enter’ to start the process. The installation process will begin and take 1-2 minutes.

After the installation is done, you can sit back and let it mine identity for your server. The process takes a few hours to complete, and while it is mining identity on the tor network, the node will be unavailable.

Once the identity mining process has been completed, your node will get a URL. We can find the URL in the following file – /etc/orc/bridge.tor/hidden_service/hostname.

ORC will create the above file after the identity is mined completely. If the file is not available on your server, it means the mining process is ongoing and may take some more time.

Deploy Onion Routed Cloud manually

If you decide not to host your server on DigitalOcean, you can deploy ORC on any other server as long as the server has a static IP address.

I suggest massiveGRID. They provide high availability servers with a 99.9999% Uptime Record and 100% Uptime SLA.

Once your server is up and running, execute the following commands to install ORC –

Install the required packages

sudo apt install gnupg2 lsb-release software-properties-common curl

Install latest NodeJS

curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_12.x | sudo bash -
sudo apt-get install -y nodejs

The above command will install nodejs 12.x. Please note that nodejs keeps releasing new updates. Visit the nodejs website, find the latest stable version, and replace the version number in the above command.

Download & run ORC script to setup ORC repository

curl -s https://packagecloud.io/install/repositories/deadcanaries/orc/script.deb.sh | sudo bash
sudo apt install orc

Once the install command has been completed, check that the ORC service is running using the systemctl or service command.

service orc status
OR
systemctl status orc

If the service is running, the setup has been completed successfully. The network will mine identity for your server and provide you an onion URL to access the interface from the tor browser.

Message

The mining process takes a few hours to complete. Meanwhile, make sure the server is running and is always connected to the Internet.

If the ORC is not running, you can start it using the service or systemctl command.

service orc start
OR
systemctl start orc

Deploy Onion Routed Cloud using .deb package

ORC even has a .deb package to install and set up ORC on the server. The package is available in the Gitlab repository. Download the proper package and run dpkg to install it on your server.

Once the .deb package has been downloaded, use dpkg command to install it on your Debian-based system.

dpkg -i orc-server_x.x.x_all.deb

Replace x with the latest ORC version. Currently, the latest version of ORC is 15.0.0.

Once done, the server will mine identity in the network. It’ll take a few hours to complete.

Once the identity mining process is done, the node will be available to be accessed through the Tor browser.

And here is how the login panel looks like after the identity is mined. Open the URL in the tor browser.

ORC login

To log in, enter the passphrase that you set during the installation.

ORC upload files
ORC settings

You can also set up two-factor authentication to improve platform security.

ORC set up 2fa

Summary

As censorship is increasing throughout the world, we need more tools like ORC to protect investigative journalism. No matter what ideology one falls in, it is essential to speak the truth and support those at the front line, i.e., journalists and activists.

Sohail

Mohd Sohail is a web developer and a Linux sysAdmin. He also loves to write how-to articles, applications reviews and loves to use new Linux distributions.

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