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Tor provides a distributed network of servers ("onion routers"). Users bounce their communications (web requests, IM, IRC, SSH, etc.) around the routers. This makes it hard for recipients, observers, and even the onion routers themselves to track the source of the stream.
Instead of taking a direct route from source to destination, data packets on the Tor network take a random pathway through several servers that cover your tracks so no observer at any single point can tell where the data came from or where it's going. This makes it hard for recipients, observers, and even the onion routers themselves to figure out who and where you are. Tor's technology aims to provide Internet users with protection against "traffic analysis," a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.
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