Everything You Need to Know About Tor Browser

What is TOR Browser
article by Amber H. author
The Tor Project is a not-for-profit company which develops free software that enables anonymous communication online. The Tor browser was initially marketed for people who wish to avoid network surveillance, however, the untraceable software has also enabled illicit online activity and cybercrime.

What is Tor?

Before you can understand what is Tor, you first need to be familiar with the history and the development of the Tor Project and the Tor browser. The concept behind the Tor browser is the Onion Router, which was first developed in the mid-90s, by several computer scientists to help protect the US Intelligence online communications. In 2006, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson commercialized the software by developing the Tor Project, which was initially financed by major corporations including Google, and InterNews.

Their goal was to help people stay anonymous online and avoid internet tracking. Internet companies track people’s’ online activity and pass on their information to private companies for data research and advertising, and the Tor browser prevents people from being tracked. It does this by continually pinging your IP address across the globe so your precise location cannot be traced. In recent years, Tor has become known as the deep web browser and the dark web browser. The deep web is a part of the World Wide Web whose contents aren’t indexed by regular search engines. The dark web refers to internet content which only exists on darknets which can only be accessed by specific software, such as Tor. Websites which host dark web content are known as onion websites or onion, for short. The dark web has become a hive of illegal online activity, such as black markets and drug trades.

How Does Tor Work?

Now that you know what is Tor, you also need to research a little before you can understand how to use Tor browser, and how does Tor work – it’s actually very simple. Tor’s primary aim is to conceal its users’ identities and their online activity from network surveillance and traffic monitoring. It does this by implementing something called “onion routing” which encrypts their location and then randomly bounces their communication around the world.  As well as concealing the user’s location, this method can also be used to bypass internet censorship.

To use Tor, you first have to download and install the browser from the Tor website. The first time you use Tor you will be asked to choose between direct and restricted access, the former is should be used if your internet access in unrestricted and the latter is used if Tor is blocked in your location. If your internet access is unrestricted the Tor browser will connect automatically to the Tor network. You can configure the security settings anytime in the drop-down menu, higher security is advised if you want total anonymity. Users are also encouraged to disable scripts, such as Java, as these can be used to track your location.

When You Should Use Tor

Tor is primarily used to conceal your identity and allow for anonymity and security. Anyone who prefers that their internet activity isn’t tracked and logged by companies and Government agencies should use Tor rather than regular internet browsers and search engines.

As well as protecting your privacy, Tor is also used by people who need to retain their anonymity for security reasons. Journalists and activists in countries with hostile governments and restrictions on freedom of expression use Tor to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal. Whistleblowers use Tor to leak sensitive information to the media. For example, Edward Snowden used Tor when he released information on the NSA’s PRISM program.

The growth of Tor and the cover it provides has made the network a refuge for unsavory individuals.

Is Using Tor Illegal?

Technically, Tor is NOT illegal. Unfortunately, Tor is regularly used by criminals to share malware, child pornography, and trade drugs. It is currently seen as being used by those with “unsavory” taste.

However, such activity is merely a regrettable consequence of Tor, but it was never the intention of its creators.

Before You Use Tor, Read This

Even if you know how to use Tor browser, you still need to be aware that Tor isn’t foolproof and your identity can still be exposed. Because of how Tor works, there are still ways for e-commerce companies and government agencies to trace your location. The FBI and other police agencies are constantly working to infiltrate the dark web and stop illegal activity and arrest criminals. People do wonder “is using Tor illegal?” however, the truth is that using Tor or the dark web in of itself isn’t a crime, but you may inadvertently be exposed to illegal information or pornography.

There are several ways to help stay protected when using Tor. One method is to increase the browser’s security settings, another is to use Tor with VPN.

For Extra Protection, Use a VPN and Tor

VPN allows you to spoof your geographical location and also helps conceal your identity. VPN is much faster than Tor and is better for downloading large files and P2P sharing. However, the security isn’t as good as Tor and your VPN provider can monitor your internet activity. Although many people prefer Tor over VPN, using Tor with VPN is a great way to ensure that your anonymity and privacy are 100% safe and protected. Tor and VPN can be used in tandem in two different ways:

Tor-through-VPN

With this method, you first connect to a VPN server and then to the Tor network. This prevents your internet service provider from seeing that you’re using Tor and the Tor network won’t see your real IP address. However, your VPN provider will see that you’re using Tor and it can see your true IP address.

VPN-through-Tor

This method involves connecting first to the Tor network, and then using a VPN server to connect to the internet. This method prevents your VPN provider from seeing your real IP address and it also allows you to choose a specific server location.

Tips for Additional Security

If you are using a Tor, there are additional things you can do to maintain safety:

  • Only go to HTTPS sites
  • Delete cookies
  • Do not use P2P traffic
  • Do not use Google
  • Do not check your email