The Ultimate Guide to Tor Browser (With Important Tips) 2019
The Tor Browser is a great tool that can help you protect your privacy and anonymity online. However, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding Tor, so it can be difficult to decide how to get started.
This guide is here to answer all your questions about Tor. We are going to explain how this powerful tool works, whether it’s safe to use, and how you can take advantage of the privacy and anonymity that Tor has to offer.
What is Tor Browser?
The Tor Browser is similar to a normal web browser in many ways. It is no more difficult to use than Chrome or Firefox. The difference is that the Tor Browser connects you to the internet through the Tor network.
Tor is a free, open-source software that helps you stay anonymous online. When you browse the internet using Tor, your traffic is randomly directed through a network of servers before you reach your final destination in order to protect your location and identity.
The name Tor is short for The Onion Router, which refers to the way that Tor protects your data by wrapping it in multiple layers of encryption like an onion.
Is Tor a VPN?
Tor and VPNs are both tools used to protect your privacy and anonymity online. However, Tor and VPNs are not the same thing. Ultimately, they are two very different technologies that protect you in completely different ways.
The Tor Browser does not have a built-in VPN. When you use a VPN, all of your data is secured with end-to-end encryption and then directed through a safe channel to a remote server that connects you to the website you are trying to visit.
Tor protects your privacy in a different way, which we will discuss in detail below. The important thing to understand is that Tor is not a VPN, but it is possible to use the two tools together to maximize your security and privacy.
How Does Tor Work?
The unique system that Tor uses to protect your anonymity was originally developed by the US Navy to protect government communications during intelligence operations.
Tor uses multi-layer encryption to secure your traffic. Your data is bundled into layers of encrypted packets before it enters the network. Tor then routes your encrypted data through a series of volunteer-operated servers called nodes or relays.
Each time you pass through one of these relays, Tor removes a layer of encryption to reveal the location of the next relay where your traffic should be directed. When you reach the final relay on your path, known as the exit node, the last layer of encryption is removed and your data is sent to your final destination.
Each relay only decrypts enough data to knows the location of the previous relay and the next relay on your path. Since each path is randomly generated and none of the relays keep records of the traffic passing through, it’s nearly impossible for your activity to be traced back to you through Tor’s complex network.
Despite the complex system Tor uses to operate behind the scenes, using Tor is actually very easy. You simply download and install the Tor Browser, then open the application and connect to the internet just like you would with any other browser.
How Secure is Tor?
Tor is very effective at hiding your location and preventing your traffic from being tracked. It’s almost impossible for your online activity to be traced through Tor’s network back to you.
However, that doesn’t mean that Tor is entirely secure. The system has a few weaknesses. Since each server in the Tor network is volunteer-operated, you never know who’s behind the relays you travel through.
Generally, this isn’t an issue because each relay isn’t able to access any of your information other than the location of the previous relay and next relay on your path. However, the only exception is the exit node.
The exit node is the one that removes the final layer of encryption on your data. It isn’t able to access your original location or IP address, but it is possible for an exit node to spy on your activity if you are visiting an unsecured HTTP website.
Tor is also vulnerable to the same attacks that other browsers are exposed to. It’s a good idea to turn off the browser’s plugins and scripts if you are trying to stay anonymous with Tor because they can be exploited to reveal information like your IP address.
Disadvantages of Using Tor
The biggest drawback to using Tor is its speed. Because your data has to travel through multiple relays before reaching your final destination, browsing with Tor can be very slow. Most people experience a dramatic decrease in speed when using Tor.
The Tor Browser isn’t the best choice to use for streaming and downloading. The creators of Tor also strongly discourage torrenting while connected to Tor. Not only is torrenting with Tor painfully slow, but your torrent traffic will not be protected and can expose your IP address.
If you are looking for a way to stream or torrent anonymously, a VPN is a much better option.
Another disadvantage of using Tor is that it can draw attention to you. Your ISP can’t see what you’re doing while you use Tor, but it can see that you’re connected to Tor. This by itself can be enough to raise suspicion about what you’re doing.
Even if you are only using Tor to legally browse the internet, the fact that you are connected to Tor can potentially turn you into a target for government surveillance. Many government agencies like the NSA and FBI are very invested in trying to find ways to track Tor users’ activity.
Using Tor with a VPN
Tor has some very unique advantages, but it doesn’t offer the same level of security and safety as a VPN. Luckily, you don’t have to choose between the two. It’s possible to use Tor and a VPN together to combine their powers and maximize your privacy.
There are two main ways to combine Tor and a VPN. We are going to walk you through both methods and explain the pros and cons of each.
Tor over VPN
This method involves connecting to your VPN first and then accessing the Tor network. There are a few advantages to this method. The main one is that it’s very easy to do.
Setting up the Tor over VPN configuration is as simple as connecting to your VPN and then opening the Tor Browser.
Some VPN providers make it even easier by offering a built-in Tor service. One great example is NordVPN’s Onion over VPN service, which allows you to connect to Tor without the Tor Browser. Instead, NordVPN can route your traffic through one of their secure VPN servers and then directly to the Tor network. Onion over VPN can also be used to protect all of the traffic on your device, not just your browser activity.
The other benefit of Tor over VPN is that all of your data is securely encrypted by your VPN before entering the Tor network. This means that there is no way for any of Tor’s volunteer-operated servers to access your real IP address.
Since VPNs hide your activity from your ISP, connecting to a VPN before accessing Tor also prevents your ISP from detecting your use of Tor.
Tor over VPN also gives you some privacy from your VPN provider, since they are unable to see what you are doing within the Tor network. On the other hand, if your VPN provider keeps logs of your activity, Tor over VPN doesn’t hide your real IP address or the fact that you’re using Tor from your VPN provider.
The other downside of this method is that it doesn’t protect you from malicious exit nodes since your traffic is unencrypted by the time you reach your final destination.
VPN over Tor
With the VPN over Tor method, you connect to the Tor network first and then go through your VPN. This method is more complicated than Tor over VPN because in most cases you have to manually configure your VPN to work with Tor in this way.
The biggest benefit of VPN over Tor is that since your traffic doesn’t go directly from a Tor exit node to your final destination. Instead, your traffic will be routed from the exit node to a secure VPN server.
Since this makes it impossible for an exit node to spy on your activity, this configuration is ideal if you need to communicate sensitive information.
In this scenario, you also are able to hide your true IP address from your VPN provider. The downside is that your ISP—and therefore government agencies as well—will be able to see that you are using Tor, although your activity will be hidden.
That being said, setting up VPN over Tor can be a hassle. If you choose a transparent VPN provider that doesn’t keep any logs, it shouldn’t be necessary to try to hide your identity from your VPN provider. In most cases, Tor over VPN provides more than enough security and privacy to protect you.
Despite its flaws, Tor is still a powerful and effective tool for protecting your privacy online. Combining Tor’s anonymity with a VPN’s security and safety gives you the best of both worlds.
We strongly recommend that you use a VPN if you are planning on taking advantage of what Tor has to offer. Also keep in mind that a VPN by itself can provide excellent security and anonymity without the significant speed decrease that you will notice with Tor.
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