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Snowflake: allowing people from all over the world to access censored websites and applications

May, 2023
Snowflake: allowing people from all over the world to access censored websites and applications

Snowflake is a system that allows people from all over the world to access censored websites and applications. Similar to how VPNs assist users in getting around Internet censorship, Snowflake helps you avoid being noticed by Internet censors by making your Internet activity appear as though you're using the Internet for a regular video or voice call.

There are numerous tools available, such as Snowflake, that "transform" Internet activity, each using a different technique. Some redirect Internet traffic to appear to be coming from popular cloud providers like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. Others scramble Internet traffic in order to make it appear completely random.

It therefore becomes costly for censors to consider blocking such circumvention tools since it would require blocking large parts of the Internet in order to achieve the initial targeted goal.

Use Snowflake to bypass censorship

Unlike VPNs, you do not need to install a separate application to connect to a Snowflake proxy and bypass censorship. It is usually a circumvention feature embedded within existing apps.

Currently Snowflake is available inside Tor Browser on Desktop and Android, Onion Browser on iOS, and Orbot on Android and iOS. If you have downloaded and installed any of these apps, and they are censored in your country, you can bypass the censorship by activating Snowflake through the apps' settings page.

Help people circumvent censorship: friendly operate a Snowflake proxy

Did you know that Snowflake proxies are operated entirely by volunteers? In other words, a user gets matched with a random Snowflake volunteer proxy, which is run by a volunteer like you!

So, if you want to help people bypass censorship, consider installing and running a Snowflake proxy. The only prerequisite is that the Internet in your country is not heavily censored already.

“My project is to make all software free.”
~ Richard Stallman at the First Hackers Conference in 1984

You can join thousands of volunteers from around the world who have a Snowflake proxy installed and running. There is no need to worry about which websites people are accessing through your Snowflake proxy. Their visible browsing IP address will match their Tor exit node, not yours.

There are different ways to run a Snowflake proxy (beginner to advanced):

Install the web extension

The web extension is the easiest way to run a Snowflake proxy. Simply install it on Firefox or Chrome, enable the extension, and watch the icon turn green when a user connects through your proxy!

Alternatively, you can embed a Snowflake proxy yourself inside a page in your own website (e.g., relay.love). Visitors to your site can enter the page, enable the proxy, and leave it open to allow people to proxy through it (it behaves and looks exactly like the web extension).

<iframe src="https://snowflake.torproject.org/embed.html" width="320" height="240" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>

If you copy above code it will look like our snowflake relay in the footer (down-under) or read more about it HERE

Run a standalone proxy

If you would like to run a command-line version of the Snowflake proxy on your desktop or server, see our guide for running a Snowflake standalone proxy.

Richard Stallman at the First Hackers Conference in 1984
The first Hackers Conference was held in Sausalito, California, in November 1984. The makers of the documentary Hackers: Wizards of the Electronic Age interviewed Richard Stallman at the event. They included only parts of the interviews in the film, but made some other footage available. Stallman's statements at the conference went beyond what he had written in the initial announcement of GNU.

Seeking support with using Snowflake

If you encounter issues while trying to connect to Tor using Snowflake, the Tor support channel can be reached on Telegram. You can also browse the Tor Support Portal and the Tor Forum for answers.

“I don't think it's a social imperative to give them the most possible profit. I think the social imperative is that information that's developed should be accessible to everyone as freely as possible. If we look at the principle underlying—the incentive principle, give people incentives to do the things you wish to encourage—and then we say, ‘what are we giving people incentives for?’ we see that we are not giving them any incentives to do the things that benefit society most. If a person has a choice, he can write a program and then encourage everyone to use it in any way that's good for him or he can write the program and then market it hoarding the plans, telling people they are not allowed to share it with their neighbors, being very obnoxious and obstructive. We see he has an incentive to be obnoxious and obstructive, he doesn't have an incentive to cooperate. I think that's sick, I think that's a bad social organization, because we are encouraging most what's not good for us.”
~ Subsequently Stallman decided to stop using the word “spiritually,” so that people would not think he meant to refer to anything supernatural.

Reporting Bugs

If you encounter problems with Snowflake - whether you're using it or running it -, please consider filing a bug report.

There are two (2) ways to file a bug report:

  1. Request an account at the Tor Project GitLab, then open a new issue in the Snowflake project.
  2. File an anonymous ticket by generating an identifier and logging in with it. Then, find the Snowflake project in the List of all projects and create a new issue.

Please try to be as descriptive as possible with your ticket and if possible include log messages that will help us reproduce the bug.

Learn more about how Snowflake works

Snowflake is a new circumvention technology, part of the Pluggable Transports family, that is continuously being improved. Curious to learn more about its architecture? Feel free to check this Technical overview (in English).

If you're interested in making use of Snowflake inside your application, get in touch with anti-censorship team.

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