Everything You Need to Know About Tor Browser

article by Maria Perinic
December 22, 2019
The tor project was created in order to advance human rights and freedoms by establishing open source anonymity and privacy technologies. Protecting your identity online by anonymizing your online traffic, the Tor browser allows private browsing without surveillance or censorship. Keep reading to find out what is Tor browser and how to use Tor browser for a private online experience.

What is Tor Browser?

The tor browser is an internet browser that permits users to browse the web anonymously. It also gives users access to the dark web. Tor is a worldwide network of countless servers which have been designed for private communication.

The team behind tor, otherwise known as the Onion Router provides people with open-source software which allows you to surf the net anonymously and freely. Originally, this project was developed with assistance from the US Navy, so that the Nave, as well as other military organizations, could communicate between themselves anonymously.

In an article written by the Guardian, when Tor launched in 2002, the emphasis of this project was to protect internet users’ privacy from corporations.

“We were increasingly concerned about all these websites – in the 2000/01 dotcom bubble, everyone was offering free services, and by free, they meant ‘we take all your information and sell it as many times as possible,” executive director Andrew Lewman told the Guardian in April 2012.

“We wanted a way to: one, put some of our research into practice and see how it would work; and two, we wanted to give the control over your information to you, the user, not to have all these companies take it by default. And let you make decisions about do you trust Google, do you trust Amazon, do you trust the BBC, whatever.”’

Today, Tor focuses mostly on its browser as well as the development of some other privacy tools.

How Does Tor Work?

The tor Browser routes your web traffic through the Tor network, making it anonymous. Tor is made up of a three-layer proxy, not unlike the layers of an onion, which is where the inspiration behind the logo comes in. When you use the Tor browser, your data travels through different Tor servers otherwise known as nodes.

The traffic is heavily encrypted and is decoded layer by layer at the different nodes. If someone is trying to identify you based on your online traffic, they will come across the last server your data traffic traveled through, making it virtually impossible to identify its users.

While everything you do online when using the Tor browser will be encrypted and therefore ensures anonymity, one disadvantage that many people experience is that the Tor browser is much slower than the original internet connection you may be used to. This is because your online data travels through different nodes.

What Do People Use Tor For?

While Tor was initially created for military purposes, it now serves a purpose for many people who benefit from online anonymity all over the world. This includes professionals like journalists who wish to protect their sources. To avoid the risk of revealing their identity, a source can communicate whatever sensitive information they choose to through the Tor browser.

Political activists also use this online channel as well as people who live in countries where fear of prosecution is great for stating certain things online. Accessing geo-restricted content to visit certain websites and bypass censorship is another popular reason to use Tor.

Whistleblowers use Tor, with the most notable example being Edward Snowden, an individual who is famous for revealing classified surveillance programs in the United States. Additionally, Tor is used by employees who are able to use the platform to expose company or government secrets. Criminals also use Tor to access the dark web and take part in illegal and immoral activities.

The benefits of using Tor browser include:

  • “Internet access is tunneled through the Tor network[1][2]
  • Websites do not see your real IP address.
  • ISPs and insecure wireless networks cannot see your browsing.
  • Access websites, even behind some types of internet filters and censors.
  • View .onion websites: the “dark net” of hidden sites only accessible using Tor.
  • Block third party cookies or all cookies.
  • Ability to change cookie storage policy (Allow All / Block Third Party / Block All)
  • Disable scripts and multimedia content that can be used to track you.
  • Can send the “Do Not Track” HTTP header (DNT: 1) to websites.”

Although many people use Tor for positive causes, some individuals take advantage of the system. For example, many cybercriminals and hackers use Tor to remain anonymous when dealing with illegal activity. This is because Tor gives users access to the dark web. Many people don’t realize, but most of us use just 4% of the internet’s capabilities when using regular internet channels.

The dark web is the part of the internet which allows people to take part in illegal business and is used in buying and selling illegal products and services. This includes things like drugs, firearms, and even users’ financial information.

Using Tor is practical for cybercriminals because they are willing to break the law, and Tor allows them to achieve a higher level of anonymity than is possible on the regular web.

This is something that is covered in the Tor FAQ section.

“Doesn’t Tor enable criminals to do bad things?

Criminals can already do bad things. Since they’re willing to break laws, they already have lots of options available that provide better privacy than Tor provides. They can steal cell phones, use them, and throw them in a ditch; they can crack into computers in Korea or Brazil and use them to launch abusive activities; they can use spyware, viruses, and other techniques to take control of literally millions of Windows machines around the world.

Tor aims to provide protection for ordinary people who want to follow the law. Only criminals have privacy right now, and we need to fix that.

Some advocates of anonymity explain that it’s just a tradeoff — accepting the bad uses for the good ones — but there’s more to it than that. Criminals and other bad people have the motivation to learn how to get good anonymity, and many have the motivation to pay well to achieve it. Being able to steal and reuse the identities of innocent victims (identity theft) makes it even easier. Normal people, on the other hand, don’t have the time or money to spend figuring out how to get privacy online. This is the worst of all possible worlds.

So yes, criminals can use Tor, but they already have better options, and it seems unlikely that taking Tor away from the world will stop them from doing their bad things. At the same time, Tor and other privacy measures can fight identity theft, physical crimes like stalking, and so on.”

How to Use Tor Browser?

To use the Tor web browser, all you need to do is head over and download the software. However, before deciding to do a Tor browser download, you should know that Tor isn’t foolproof when it comes to hiding your identity, which can still be exposed. So, is Tor browser safe to use?

There are risks involved with using Tor, an example of which is using the dark web. While you will have access to a lot more of what the internet generally has to offer, you should take all possible measures to stay safe on this browser.

When you download the Tor browser, check out the security settings to make sure your online experience is as safe as possible. Never click on any links you don’t know or trust as you never know who is hiding behind those links. Lastly, make sure to use a reliable and secure Virtual Private Network (VPN).

For Additional Protection Use a VPN and Tor Together

When you use a VPN and Tor at the same time, it ensures that your online traffic is better encrypted. Your VPN connection will mask your IP address by showing the IP of the VPN server you have connected to instead of your true IP address, ultimately making for a much safer browsing experience.

Not all VPNs work the same, so for the purpose of using a Tor browser and VPN in combination, one of the major features you should be looking at is speed. Tor is slow in itself, and some VPNs have been known to slow down your internet connection by as much as 60-70%.

ExpressVPN is one of the fastest, if not the fastest VPN on the market, providing you with an all-round secure and private internet experience.

There are two different ways that you can use the Tor and VPN combination to connect to the internet.

Tor Through VPN

When you use this method, you will first connect through your VPN server and then to the Tor network. This will prevent your ISP, Government agencies or cybercriminals from seeing your IP address. It should be noted that your VPN provider will be able to see that you are using Tor and they will be able to note your true IP address.

VPN through Tor

You will first connect to the Tor network and then use your VPN to connect to the internet. This will prevent your VPN service provider from seeing your IP address, and it will also let you select the server location you want.

How to Use Tor Browser on Mobile and Cell Phones

In addition to being able to download the tor browser on your computer, an increasing amount of people are using their phones more often to access the internet. The tor Project has recognized this as has spent a number of years attempting to build a more efficient Tor browser for those who use the internet on their phone.

A few months back, the Tor Project officially released the Tor Browser for Android.

“Mobile browsing has increasingly become the primary way many people go online. In 2014, Tor Browser was used by millions of people on their desktop computers, but there was not yet a way to use Tor on a mobile device. We have long recognized the need for protecting people’s rights to privacy and freedom online, including on mobile devices, but as a small nonprofit organization, we were not yet ready to meet that demand. That’s when our friends at Guardian Project began exploring the possibility of providing Tor Browser on Android themselves. Their answer was Orfox.”

As there are technical restrictions on Apple’s iOS platform, there has not been an official release an official Tor browser for iOS users, however, the Tor Project does recommend the use of the Onion Tor browser instead.

Third-party apps available for jailbroken iPhones are not official and should not be trusted for use.

“Copies of Onion Browser downloaded outside the App Store — via app directories like Cydia or other “jailbreak” app directories — are not created by the developer of Onion Browser. These copies may have modifications added by the packager, which may interfere with your privacy or security, or they may secretly contain malware. We cannot provide support for copies of Onion Browser acquired through these channels.”

Regarding the flexibility of Tor browser, Mac users can also use it.

Is Tor Legal?

While in most parts of the world, the Tor browser is completely legal. However, there are countries that have made the use of this browser illegal or had it blocked by national authorities. Countries such as China have completely outlawed the Tor browser and have blocked Tor traffic from coming through the Great Firewall.

Other nations like Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are putting in their best efforts in order to prevent their citizens from using Tor. Just last year, Venezuela blocked access to the Tor network as an increasing amount of people from the region began using the service.

“Direct access traffic on the Tor network steadily increased in Venezuela over the past two months, and even more sharply this month via Tor bridges — alongside a new wave of online censorship from the Maduro government. These most recent blocks have affected several major Venezuelan news outlets, including El Nacional and La Patilla, among others.

While previous online censorship in Venezuela could often be avoided by switching DNS settings from a local Venezuelan server to an international service (like Google’s public DNS), this has not been possible for the most recent blocks. Instead, people have needed to rely on using virtual private networks (VPNs) and Tor to circumvent government censorship. This increased use of Tor to access blocked content is likely what triggered these new restrictions to the tool.”

It isn’t hard to see why repressive regimes do not appreciate tools like Tor. This kind of platform makes it simple for journalists to report on sensitive topics such as corruption without fear of political and criminal persecution.

Is Tor Browser Anonymous?

The Tor browser is one of the best ways in which you can remain anonymous online. However, although it offers a higher level of protection, it does not mean it is a completely anonymous web browser. While some researchers are putting in their best efforts to create a tool that will resist next-generation state surveillance, government agencies worldwide are trying to break its anonymous properties.

‘Tor’s growth in users has not gone unnoticed, and today the network first dubbed “The Onion Router” is under constant strain from those wishing to identify anonymous Web users. The NSA and GCHQ have been studying Tor for a decade, looking for ways to penetrate online anonymity, at least according to these Snowden docs. In 2014, the US government paid Carnegie Mellon University to run a series of poisoned Tor relays to de-anonymize Tor users. A 2015 research paper outlined an attack effective, under certain circumstances, at decloaking Tor hidden services (now rebranded as “onion services”). Most recently, 110 poisoned Tor hidden service directories were discovered probing .onion sites for vulnerabilities, most likely in an attempt to de-anonymize both the servers and their visitors.’


Whether or not you should use Tor is actually dependant on your browsing needs. The Tor browser is simple to use, free and generally a very effective tool for staying anonymous online. It also gives you access to the dark web as well as some options to keep you secure while online.

While there are certainly positive aspects of using the Tor browser, it is also quite slow and can open the door to many online dangers if you’re not extra careful. If you want the benefits of a fast connection for torrenting, streaming or gaming as well as a secure and anonymous connection, you can always go with a VPN.

Alternatively, if you enjoy fast internet connection speeds, you can use Tor in combination with a VPN and reap the benefits of a secure online connection.