The Tor Browser – What is it? Why should I use it?

Tor browser

Tor browser is an internet browser that allows its users to browse anonymously. Also, through Tor you have access to the dark web. Tor is a worldwide network of servers created specifically for private communication. If you want to start using the Tor browser, follow these steps:

  1. Get  a decent VPN to protect you online.
  2. Visit the Tor project website
  3. Download the right Tor browser for your operating system.
  4. install the browser
  5. Click on “connect”

You are now ready to browse all corners of the World Wide Web with the Tor browser. If you are not sure which VPN will protect you best when using Tor, we would like to recommend CyberGhost:

For more information about Tor and a detailed installation guide, check out our full article below.

If you’re interested in anonymity and online privacy, you’ve probably heard about Tor. For many, Tor is the foundation of true internet freedom. But, what exactly is Tor? How does it work, and why should I use it? What are the main differences between the Tor browser and other privacy-related features like VPNs and proxy servers? Learn all about it in this article!

Safety first: caution when starting to use Tor!

We understand that you are eager to experience all the possibilities that Tor has to offer. However, some of these possibilities come with great risks. A good example is the dark web. Tor provides access to this part of the internet, but you shouldn’t try to access it without knowing exactly what you’re getting into. 

For this reason, before telling you more about Tor, we will show you some steps you can take to stay safe while using the Tor browser, especially when visiting the dark web.

First, check Tor’s security settings. Tor uses a reliable and very effective data encryption system, as we will see later. And so, using Tor’s security settings, your online experience will be more secure. Second, even though it’s obvious to most, it’s important not to visit websites or click on suspicious links that you don’t trust. 

And of course, this is something you should always keep in mind, regardless of the browser and the security measures adopted. Lastly, we recommend that you use a good and secure VPN or a virtual private network.

Use a VPN for Your Security While Using Tor

Using a VPN in conjunction with Tor ensures better encryption of your data. Furthermore, the VPN also hides your IP address and displays the IP of the VPN server you are using instead of your “real” static IP. This means that your browsing is much safer. 

One VPN provider we recommend increasing your security while browsing Tor is CyberGhost. This provider offers a secure and reliable double encryption system, is very affordable, and even has a 45-day money-back guarantee. That means you can test and see if it works as you want without having to commit to an annual subscription.

What is Tor?

The team behind Tor (The Onion Router) offers open-source software to help you  browse the internet anonymously. Initially, the Tor network was created with the help of the United States Navy. The network was developed to allow the US Navy and other military organizations to communicate anonymously online. Today, Tor’s focus is on its browser and the development of a few other privacy tools, matters we’ll get to later.

As mentioned earlier, the Tor browser is a huge boon for your privacy and, to a certain extent, your security. The browser uses the vast network of servers around the world that make up Tor. When using the Tor browser, your data passes through several Tor servers (or “interconnects”). Traffic is highly encrypted and slowly decoded, layer by layer, across the different interconnects. 

This means that no matter who is trying to identify you based on your online traffic, that person/organization will end up stumbling upon the last server your data passed through, the “outbound interconnect”. In other words: the Tor browser makes it impossible, or at least very difficult, to identify its users.

Tor Network Nodes Portuguese

To access the Tor network you will only need to download the Tor browser. Everything you do online while using the Tor browser will be automatically encrypted and “anonymized” in the process described above.

A disadvantage always pointed out by many is the slowness of the Tor browser in relation to the conventional internet connection. Since your data is sent over several different interconnects, your internet connection will have to go this long way, which makes it significantly slow.

What do people use Tor for?

Although early developers created it for military purposes, Tor has become a very useful tool for everyone, especially those who have something to hide or will benefit from online anonymity. 

Many journalists and political activists use Tor to avoid being sued. Usually, these people live in countries where the authorities can punish them for their thoughts and point of view they want to share on the internet.

Likewise, journalists use Tor to protect their sources. If a source doesn’t want to risk having their identity revealed, they can exchange sensitive information through the Tor browser. In addition to information providers, we also find consumers on Tor.

Many people use the Tor browser to access geo-restricted content, to circumvent the censorship and visiting specific websites. After all, many pages, such as those on the dark web, are not visible when using “conventional browsers”, such as Safari or Firefox.

Another well-known group that uses Tor are whistleblowers. For example, one of the most notable supporters and users is Edward Snowden, who revealed documents about secret surveillance programs in the United States. Likewise, Tor can be used by employees to expose secrets from authorities and companies or even immoral and illegal activities.

The dark side of Tor

While this, all sounds very positive, not everyone uses Tor for a “noble cause”. For example, many hackers and cybercriminals use Tor to maintain their anonymity and conduct their illegal activities. Tor is very useful especially for criminals as it gives you access to the dark web. This dark side of the internet contains many illegal networks, like the old black market called “Silk Road”. 

This site used to be a big network where people bought and sold all sorts of illegal things like drugs and guns. In short, many criminals use Tor to avoid getting caught doing their illegal activities.

Tor is not just used to maintain user anonymity. With Tor, it is also possible to host websites that can only be accessed by users of this browser. Therefore, any website hosted on the Tor network will not be catalogued or found in major search engines such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. This makes these sites part of the dark web.

Using Tor is completely legal in most territories, especially in the “western world”. However, as mentioned earlier, some people use Tor for illegal activities as the anonymity of the software helps them. Using Tor does not make these activities any less illegal. Therefore, we advise you to stay away from these practices.

Tor Security and Privacy Limitations

Eye on Laptop

Tor is useful, but it’s definitely not perfect. Browsing Tor isn’t as anonymous as it sounds. While the Tor team is constantly working to improve its protection, its software has been hacked in the past. Tor reported that its system and network were not hacked, just individual browsers. However, while this may put some users at ease, it still proves that Tor is not perfect as the only privacy measure.

Thanks to ISPs, authorities can sometimes identify Tor users. However, this is only done in specific cases. When something looks suspicious, official organizations can use this method to expose a website or individual. As long as you stay within the law, you’ll be fine. However, please note that using Tor, which many associate with illegal activities on the dark web, can influence authorities to try to track you.

More privacy doesn’t mean more security

Privacy does not necessarily equate to security. Tor does not protect you from cyberattacks and cybercriminals while you are using the browser. The Tor network is incredibly difficult to hack, which is compounded by its open-source code. However, the same cannot be said about your browser, which is relatively easy to hack. 

Even mild attacks are possible on Tor thanks to ISPs. Fortunately, Tor developers are more than aware of these risks and are continuing to work on improving Tor software, improving the security of its users.

If you want to use Tor, be sure to download its latest version. It’s obvious that Tor has its limitations, but its team is constantly working to optimize and make the software better and more secure. You can only gain an advantage if you keep your system as up-to-date as possible.

Is Tor the right browser for you?

For ordinary internet users, the anonymity that Tor offers is not the ideal incentive to start using the software. This is because encryption makes the connection very slow. Also, as we mentioned earlier, conducting surveillance online takes time and money, which means that authorities cannot, and probably do not want to, spy on each one of your citizens. 

Instead, they need to focus on suspicious behaviour online. So most people who spend time online, let’s say, searching for funny cat videos or looking for the nearest pizzeria, probably won’t get much benefit from using Tor.

VPNs: An Alternative to Tor

VPN on mobile

While you can browse relatively anonymously with Tor, the browser does not anonymize or protect all your other internet activities. Applications running in the background, outside your browser, will not be protected by the Tor network. If you want to make sure that all your online activities are encrypted and anonymous, then maybe a VPN is the right tool for you. 

Especially if you are trying to protect your connection from cybercriminals when using a public Wi-Fi network, for example, VPN can be very useful.

VPN allows you to use the internet without restrictions. It helps to circumvent any geographic censorship, such as the restrictions imposed by Netflix. Furthermore, the VPN encrypts all your data traffic and ensures that you can browse and download whatever you want completely anonymously. The best VPNs also have much faster internet than the Tor browser. This means that streaming services, downloads, and games are much faster and less frustrating when using the VPN, unlike the Tor browser.

However, there are some things a VPN cannot do. First, VPNs do not provide access to the dark web. If you use a VPN when visiting the dark web, it will help keep you safe from malware, online attacks, and other dangers. The second advantage of Tor over VPNs is that Tor is completely free. On the other hand, most good VPNs require you to pay a small monthly fee.

Should I use Tor?

Whether or not you should use Tor mostly depends on your needs. Tor is free, easy to use, and generally effective anonymization software. In addition to offering access to the dark web, it also has several online protection options. On the other hand, Tor is very slow and is an open door to many online dangers. 

If you prefer a fast connection for streaming, downloading and gaming services, for example, we recommend VPN. Feel free and check out our VPN comparison and review tool to find out which VPN best suits your needs.

What is the difference between Tor and proxy servers?

In addition to Tor and VPN, you can also choose to increase your privacy and security online by using a proxy server. However, proxy servers usually only work well for specific situations and purposes, such as accessing The Pirate Bay. Even so, many consider both to be less effective and less secure than Tor and a good VPN. However, people keep asking themselves the difference between a proxy and Tor. So let’s take a look at the main differences.

What does a proxy server do?

A proxy server, just like a VPN or Tor, is another way of guiding your online traffic through several servers that (metaphorically) lie between your computer and the “destination server” of your data. This server is the proxy, offered to you by the owner. The configuration used is generally simple: everyone using the service sends their data through the same server. All these people are given the same “fake” IP address.

Different IP Proxy Portuguese

Why are Tor and VPNs more secure than proxies?

People prefer proxies because most are free. However, this does not mean that proxies are really the best solution to your online problems. Proxy servers only offer a certain level of anonymity and security online. For example, proxies generally don’t encrypt your data like Tor and VPNs do. Also, the privacy that proxies offer is not as reliable as that offered by a good, secure VPN like PIA.

Another disadvantage of proxy servers is that the server host can see exactly what you are doing online. In theory, they can log this information and cause all sorts of possible problems. So if you’re thinking of using a proxy server, choose a server controlled by someone you really trust. 

Most of the time, you won’t know who the owner is, which makes this a difficult task. He or she may collect your data or even place advertisements on the pages you visit. In short, the proxy server doesn’t offer real security and privacy. At least not the same security and privacy that Tor and a VPN provide.

How do I install Tor?

Are you convinced that Tor is the right tool for you? Installing Tor on your device is quite simple. Follow the steps below, and you will be able to use the Tor browser in just a few minutes.

Step 1 : Go to the Tor website and click download in the upper-right corner of your screen.

Tor installatie download button

2nd step : You will be on the download page. Select your operating system by clicking one of the five icons shown below. As you can see, you can opt for Windows, Mac, Linux or Android. If you want to download the browser in a specific language, click on “download in another language or platform”.

Screenshot besturingssystemen ondersteund door Tor

Step 3 : An installation file will be downloaded to your computer. Open this file and start the installation process. Select the desired language and click “OK”.

Tor language

4th step : The Tor browser configuration will appear on your screen. Select the destination folder (generally you don’t need to change anything here and the installation will automatically create a new folder for Tor) and click on “Install”.

Tor install

Step 5 : During the installation process, you can choose whether Tor will start automatically after installation. If you decide not to launch it, you will have to open it yourself by searching for the program. The first time you open the browser, the screen below will be displayed. Usually, you just need to click “Connect” and start using. Are you in a country that actively censors Tor, like Turkey, China, or Egypt? So, it is better to click “Configure” first. Tor will help you configure your browser so that you are not so bothered by your country’s online restrictions.

Tor app

Step 6 : When you are done configuring, click on “Connect” and your Tor browser will open. Now you can use Tor for free.

Tor browser

Other Tor projects

orbot

In addition to the Tor browser, Tor has a few other projects that are somehow related to online privacy. The Tor project, as the team is called, is constantly working on different ways to protect its users’ online privacy and fight for online freedom. An example of one of their projects is Orbot, which is a free proxy app for Android devices. It uses the same network of interconnects as the browser to transport your information across the world web. Orbot helps maintain your online privacy and encrypts your internet traffic. Just like the browser, but only for Android.

OONI

Another project from the Tor team is OONI, which focuses on removing online restrictions. OONI, an acronym for Open Observatory of Network Interference, monitors internet censorship around the world. Since 2012, OONI has been developing free software for the purpose of detecting online blocking. The software does not protect your device or circumvent restrictions it encounters. It’s just a way to get a perspective on the global situation regarding online restrictions and censorship. You can learn more about OONI’s findings on the OONI website.

Tor-messenger

Not all Tor projects are up and running. The Tor project has already created a chat program that encrypts all communication. They called it  Tor Messenger. With this program, you could continue using all your conventional services like Google Talk, Facebook Messenger and Twitter, but your chat data would become anonymous. No logs were stored, so all your messages were safe. 

However, Tor Messenger updates have stopped as of April 2018, which means the software is no longer as secure as it used to be. Therefore, we no longer recommend using Tor Messenger.

Final considerations

Tor is a giant in the field of online privacy. Your browser gives your users freedom to visit whichever site they want and offers a certain level of anonymity online. However, this protection is limited to your browser and does not cover all internet activities like VPN does.

Furthermore, Tor is closely monitored by the authorities, due to the illegal and criminal dealings usually carried out through this browser. The service is free and easy to download, but it has its limitations.

If you decide to use the Tor browser, always be wary of unregulated websites and protect yourself from malware with reliable antivirus software. We also recommend that you take other security measures along with Tor, such as a good VPN. If you adequately protect yourself and reflect on your choices, Tor browser can offer you a fun, anonymous and free internet experience.