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Illustration for article titled Share and Receive Files Anonymously with OnionShare

Illustration: ne2pi (Shutterstock)

Whether you’re a spy or a geek, there are plenty of ways to share and receive files with others without revealing anyone’s identity. Whatever your reasons for needing this secrecy, whether as the host or the submitter, it’s easy to set up a virtual dumping ground for your data—top-secret or otherwise mundane.

A brand-new version of the popular OnionShare app dropped the other day, and I recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking to make clandestine connections with friends or internet strangers. The open-source app uses the power of Tor to manage the transfers, basically guaranteeing people anonymity—so long as you’re smart about it and aren’t, say, using your real-life Facebook account to share a link to your OnionShare-based dropbox.

To get started, download and install the free OnionShare app (for Windows/macOS/Linux). Launch it, and you’ll automatically start connecting to the Tor network. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to pick from a few different options on OnionShare’s main screen:

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Screenshot: David Murphy

One of the fun upgrades in OnionShare 2.3 is that each of these features now launches in its own tab. In previous versions of the app, you couldn’t elect to receive files and send files to someone else at the same time. Now, you can do everything—file-sharing, website-hosting, and anonymous chatting—at once.

If you want to set up a dumping ground for incoming files, simply click on the “Start Receiving” link under Receive Files. You’ll be asked where you’d like these files to be saved on your system:

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Screenshot: David Murphy

Hit “Start Receive Mode,” and you’ll get a special web address. Copy and paste it to people—ideally individual people you know, and not, like, a web forum—and they’ll be able to use the Tor browser to send files your way.

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Screenshot: David Murphy

Those sending you files via their Tor browsers will see a simple screen that looks like this:

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Screenshot: David Murphy

And that’s it. Sending files from one system to another is simple, but it will take a bit of time. At least, it felt like the 86MB I transferred took far longer via Tor than your typical file upload/download from the web (as one would expect, given how Tor works).

Click on the little down-arrow icon in the upper-right corner of OnionShare to see what people have sent you and when. You can also quickly jump to a file’s location on your system by clicking on the icon to the right of its listed size:

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Screenshot: David Murphy

While you have your receiving line running, you can also fire up a new tab using the “+” icon in the upper-left corner of OnionShare’s window and do something else—like share a file with someone else, for example. Launch the “Share Files” feature from OnionShare’s main menu and drag and drop something into the window:

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Screenshot: David Murphy

You’ll need to click the big Start Sharing box to do just that. When you do, you’ll get another OnionShare URL that you’ll need to send to others. They’ll launch the URL in the Tor browser to grab your file.

I haven’t played around with OnionShare’s Host a Website or Chat Anonymously features, as I have no interest in either—especially the latter. Plus, then you’re using your own bandwidth to host a website that anyone can visit if they have the special URL (and the Tor browser, of course), and your ISP might frown on that if you get incredibly popular. To be fair, the Chat feature sounds more ominous than it actually is; it actually launches a chat server that others connect to over the Tor browser. You too, as you can’t just chat with people connected to your server via OnionShare itself; you’ll have to fire up the Tor browser to participate. And all you can do is talk—no file- or image-sharing, for example.

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Screenshot: David Murphy





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