What bridges are and when to use them

When using Tor with Tails in its default configuration, anyone who can observe the traffic of your Internet connection (for example your Internet Service Provider and perhaps your government and law enforcement agencies) can know that you are using Tor.

This may be an issue if you are in a country where the following applies:

  1. Using Tor is blocked by censorship: since all connections to the Internet are forced to go through Tor, this would render Tails useless for everything except for working offline on documents, etc.

  2. Using Tor is dangerous or considered suspicious: in this case starting Tails in its default configuration might get you into serious trouble.

Tor bridges, also called Tor bridge relays, are alternative entry points to the Tor network that are not all listed publicly. Using a bridge makes it harder, but not impossible, for your Internet Service Provider to know that you are using Tor.

If you are in one of the situations described above you might want to use Tor bridges in Tails. Please also read The Tor Project's dedicated page about bridges to get a general idea about what bridges are.

In order to use Tor through bridges, you must know the address of at least one bridge in advance. The Tor Project distributes bridge addresses in several ways, for example from their website and via email.

Bridges are less reliable and tend to have lower performance than other entry points.

How to use bridges in Tails

You must have at hand at least one bridge address before starting Tails. For example, you can write it down on a piece of paper or store it in the Persistent Storage.

Tails allows you to use bridges of the following types:

  • bridge
  • obfs3
  • obfs4

To use bridges, choose to configure bridge settings from the Welcome Screen:

  1. When the Welcome Screen appears, click on the Add Additional Setting button.

  2. Choose Network Configuration in the Additional Settings dialog.

  3. Select the Configure a Tor bridge or local proxy option.

Then, after starting the working session and connecting to the network, an assistant will guide you through the configuration of Tor.

After Tor is started, the bridges that you configured appear as the first relay of your Tor circuits in Onion Circuits.

If using Tor is dangerous in your country

The Tor Project's documentation on bridges mainly focuses on censorship circumvention: when using Tor is blocked by censorship. If using Tor is dangerous or considered suspicious in your country, then there are some extra rules that you should follow in order to prevent yourself from being identified as a Tor user.

Bridges are important tools that work in many cases but they are not absolute protection against all techniques that an adversary could do to identify Tor users.
  1. Always start Tails in bridge mode.

  2. Only use obfuscated bridges since they are harder to identify than other bridges.

  3. The less publicly known the bridges are, the better. Unfortunately, since some bridge addresses can be obtained by anyone from the Tor website or by email, it is also possible for an adversary to get the same bridge information by the same means. The Tor Project has some protection against that, but they are far from being perfect.

    So the best is if you can find a trusted friend or an organisation in a different country who runs a "private" obfuscated bridge for you. In this case "private" means that the bridge is configured with the option PublishServerDescriptor 0. Without this option The Tor Project will learn about the bridge and may distribute its address to others and so it could end up in the hands of your adversary.