What’s the Difference between Tor and VPN?

article by Rebecca Lori
January 16, 2020
As technology advances and the threat of cybercrime increases, people are generally getting more and more confused as to what is to which type of online security is the best. There’s plenty of talk regarding Tor or VPN but what exactly are they and how can they keep you safe and secure online?  
 

In this easy guide, we will be looking at the difference between Tor and VPN and whether a Tor and VPN can be used together. We’ll conclude by outlining our favorite VPNs for Tor and give you information on the best deals which are well worth checking out!

Keep reading to find out the difference between Tor and VPN…

Is Tor a VPN?

In a word, no. Tor is used for the same purpose but the way in which it works is completely different. Tor is a special type of software that has been designed to give you total privacy and anonymity online. This software was initially released in 2002 and has since seen many updated software updates released into the public domain. Tor (originally called The Onion Router) is a type of open-source software that is run by a large network of volunteers. What it does it direct your web traffic through a network containing thousands of relays, which in simple terms means that it becomes almost impossible to track down the users’ true IP address and location.

Tor and VPN software is used by journalists and activists as well as everyday people who wish to remain anonymous. It works by connecting to numerous devices in the Tor network before reconnecting to your device. Because the Tor connection always bounces around different “relays” it means that a website will always be accessed by a different device despite starting its initial journey from your device. Think of it as a series of changing pathways that lead from your device to your chosen online location.

Lots of people use Tor so that their personal details remain anonymous, they are not targeted by ads and their location is hidden. Others may use it to access the dark web. Websites will not be able to identify your location but they will be able to see that you are using Tor software. Unfortunately, this means that some websites will be inaccessible to you. For example – Wikipedia does not allow Tor users to edit their pages and some Tor users will find that Flash is blocked. If you are using Tor you won’t be fully protected when you use websites that aren’t encrypted. Encrypted websites always have a URL that begins with HTTPS. There are browser versions of Tor software that can be used for Mac, Linux and Windows. It’s easy to use and pretty safe but it doesn’t compare to the safety as a VPN or Virtual Private Network. Those who are wondering does Tor have VPN? No, it doesn’t – but they can be used in combination.

What is a VPN?

Tor and VPN software is different and whilst Tor is safe to use, we always recommend using it in combination with a decent VPN. A Virtual Private Network essentially works by tunneling your web traffic to a chosen server. There are usually lots of different servers that you can connect to and your IP address and true location will remain anonymous. The way in which it works is through encrypting your data end to end. This means that your data (browsing history, IP address, etc) is “scrambled” and unreadable to anyone that may intercept your connection. The only person that can read the decrypted information is the key holder, which is the main user; ie you!

Many users choose to use a VPN so that they can access geographically blocked content such as US Netflix and other websites disallowed in different countries due to copyright laws. It also gives you a safer connection when accessing public wifi as your identity will be hidden from potential hackers – super helpful when checking bank statements online or using credit card details to make an online purchase on the go.

Many VPN providers have a strict no-log policy which means that they will never store your data. This is a luxury these days when private data can be bought and shared between companies. The best VPNs available will usually require a subscription of some sort. There are free versions available but the paid versions are far more superior.

VPN vs Tor: The difference between Tor and VPN

The difference is quite significant although they essentially do a similar job. Tor keeps you anonymous through routing your traffic through a complex network of “relays”. Arguably, your true IP address and identity is safer using Tor as your traffic is routed through nodes that can only see the IP addresses that have occurred in front and behind it. No one can ever see the full journey between your device and the website you are connecting to ant any point. When you use a VPN, the provider will have access to the details of your true IP although many will not store this information on their servers. Tor and VPN software differs when it comes to speed.

Most people use a VPN to bypass geo-blocks and access websites blocked in their own country. By connecting to an alternative server in a different country you can trick the website into believing that you are connecting from that country in person. For example, if you are based in the UK and wish to access US Netflix then you can connect to an American server. A VPN is much better at streaming than Tor which doesn’t seem to handle speeds so well. Torrenting is much better with a VPN too.

Tor and VPN

Many people have asked the following question…can you use a VPN and Tor together? We can safely say that not only is using Tor with VPN possible, but it’s also one of the safest ways that you can use the internet. It might seem a little excessive using Tor and VPN together but once you discover how they work together it will start to make more sense!

There are several ways that you can use Tor and VPN combined and there are pros and cons with each one which we will go into more detail below:

Tor to VPN

This method of security means that you will have to connect to the VPN server first. The idea behind this is that your data will be encrypted by the VPN and routed through the Tor network. Using Tor with a VPN is one of the safest ways that you can use the internet safely and relatively anonymously. We say “relatively” because your VPN provider will of course know your true location. For this reason alone we recommend using a high-quality VPN provider which has a strict no-logs policy.

VPN to Tor

Another method of using these two different types of software is to use Tor first and log into the VPN afterward. After going through the Tor router your data will be fully encrypted by the VPN and your connection will show as the last exit point from the Tor network.

Both of these methods work wonderfully but can be better suited to specific tasks. A VPN connection will give you a more secure connection whilst using Tor gives you better anonymity. There is a downside though, which is your connection speed. Using Tor and VPN together means that your connection speed will suffer as a result. If streaming content is more important than complete anonymity then a decent VPN is the better option.

Using Tor with VPN – why this is the best solution…

There is no doubt at all that a VPN is one of the most secure pieces of software that you can use to keep your connection safe and secure. Your traffic is encrypted through a tunnel which keeps your IP address hidden and your traffic anonymous. Most VPN providers use highly secure protocols to perform the encryption as 256-bit which is actually considered “top secret” by the government.

There is a downside to using a VPN however. No matter how secure the service is, you will never be 100% safe. Data leaks can occur where unencrypted data gets transmitted which includes IP leaks and DNS leaks. To minimize your risk you can perform an IP leak test or use a kill switch but the best way to be better protected is to use Tor alongside your VPN. The Tor browser will not encrypt data but will keep the user anonymous. Your data will be sent to a specialized browser that sends the information through numerous anonymous servers. This tool is a powerful piece of software that is particularly effective, but isn’t 100% safe when used alone.

As individual security solutions they do not offer 100% safety, so is it time to double up your software using the Tor over VPN or VPN over Tor methods as mentioned above?

Best VPNs for Tor

Below, you’ll find a selection of our absolute favorite VPNs that work brilliantly when combined with Tor.

#1 ExpressVPN

This super popular VPN provider has an excellent reputation for providing one of the fastest connection speeds on the market which makes it perfect for using alongside a Tor browser. ExpressVPN provides a staggering 1700 servers in 100 different countries which gives you lots of different possibilities no matter where you are in the world. This means that you can log onto a different server to bypass a geo-block whilst remaining anonymous through your Tor.

As Tor doesn’t encrypt your data it’s good to know that  ExpressVPN uses 256-bit encryption techniques, and no less than five encryption protocols. These protocols include OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP and SSTP to keep your connection extra secure. This VPN provider has a strict no-logging policy which means that your true location will never be stored or shared. They also provide a kill switch and DNS leak protection should your connection cut off any time.

This isn’t a free service, but the subscriptions are pretty inexpensive, and they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re uncertain whether or not the product is for you and the 15-month plan provides incredible value for money. Customer service is fantastic and there’s a fast response rate for any queries or problems that you may encounter.

Find out more about ExpressVPN and the features here.

#2 CyberGhost

Using Tor with VPN is the safest possible solution for internet users and one of our top-rated favorites is CyberGhost which is super easy to set up. This VPN also benefits from fast connections speeds which can easily handle downloads, Torrents and streaming. Impressively, this VPN provider offers around 5900 servers located in 90 different countries, so no matter where you are located, you will likely find a server closeby. CyberGhost values its security and uses military-grade encryption methods (AES 256-bit) which is virtually unhackable. They offer a range of subscriptions with the 3-year package providing the best value for money.

If you’re not 100% happy, they provide a 45-day money-back guarantee too.

Find out more information here.

#3 SurfShark

One of the lowest priced VPN services in the industry, SurfShark will allow you fast access to streaming services which are normally geographically blocked whilst giving you the best security when coupled with a Tor browser. One of the benefits of this particular VPN is that it can be used across multiple devices and can be used on unlimited devices too. This means that you and your family can use this with your smartphones, PCs, and iPhones to remain safe and anonymous at all times.

The problem with using a Tor browser alone is that you don’t get the additional benefits that a VPN can provide. This particular software not only has an adblocker but also a malware blocker too, which will prevent you from getting a nasty virus. In summary, this VPN is fast, reliable and secure and perfect for use with Tor. SurfShark provides a range of subscriptions which are relatively inexpensive for the services and features that they provide.

Find out more in this review to discover if SurfShark is the right VPN for you.

#4 ZenMate

Attracting over 45 million users, we knew that there had to be something pretty special about this VPN provider to gain such popularity across the world. Zenmate provide servers in 30 different countries so you’re sure to find a server close to you. The added security and speed is a welcome addition to any Tor browser and that’s one of the reasons we chose this particular VPN provider which uses 128-bit encryption techniques which is said to be super safe and faster than 256-bit methods. This product can be used on up to 15 devices and you can actually sample the product for free for seven days before you commit to a full subscription. Nothing to lose by giving this a try!

Read more about it here.

#5 ProtonVPN

One of the most secure VPNs on our list, ProtonVPN is located in Switzerland which is protected by one of the strongest privacy laws in the world. Using a Tor browser alone can slow down your speed so it’s vital to use this in combination with a fast VPN. Luckily this VPN is super speedy and will protect your privacy with its extra-strong encryption techniques. ProtonVPN has around 474 servers in 36 different countries and can be used on up to five devices. They operate a strict no-logging policy and provide a kill switch and DNS leak protection too.

Find out more information on ProtonVPN here.

Do Average Internet Users Need Tor & VPNs?

Let’s take a look at all the things we take for granted and do automatically without giving it a second thought. If we begin by looking at our daily activity online we can start to see how much we use the internet and how much personal data we input on a daily basis. We check our bank accounts online, make financial transfers online, add credit card details onto new websites in order to make purchases online and add our names, addresses into subscription forms all the time. Our lives are literally online for anyone to see if they have the technical know-how. If you’ve ever been a victim of any cybercrime: credit card fraud or phishing scams you will be well aware of the importance of keeping your personal data safe and secure.

Tor isn’t just for shady characters looking to access the dark web. It’s a handy tool that keeps you safe and anonymous. No one wants their internet activity moniTored and no one wants this information being leaked into the wrong hands. Using Tor with VPN not only ensures that you are entirely anonymous but it also doubles your security whilst online. The risk of using public wifi hotspots minimizes whilst your freedom to browse blocked content increases.

Are TOR and VPN legal?

Whilst the use of Tor and VPNs is legal in most countries there are some countries that have tried to ban the use of such software such as Iran and Oman (to name a few). Although it is worth noting that whilst some destinations have in fact placed a ban on the use of a VPN and Tor, there are usually ways to circumnavigate around these bans.

Conclusion

Whilst Tor stands its ground as a superior piece of software, it does have its flaws. We rate Tor for its ability to keep you anonymous and we think it stands above a VPN in this particular field as it’s virtually impossible to trace a user using Tor but it’s worth noting that your connection isn’t encrypted. Many VPN providers use military-grade encryption techniques to funnel your data to the server and keep it safe. The only problem with this is that some VPN providers sTore your information and sell this onto third parties – which kind of defeats the point of using a VPN in the first place!

The solution is to find a reputable VPN provider that has a strict no-logs policy, ideally based in a country protected with decent privacy laws. Combine this with a high-quality Tor browser and you’ve instantly doubled your online security. Millions of nasty malware are being created each year and the risk of being hacked is getting higher and higher each day. Combine that with an increase in censorship laws and the threat of being constantly watched by “Big Brother” and you can start to see why using Tor with a VPN makes total sense.

VPN & Tor

You’ll be pleased to hear that you can use VPN and Tor for maximum security while online. Doubling down might seem excessive, but it makes sense considering the purpose of both.

If you use Windows, the Tor network isn’t the best option as there are often numerous flaws that can be exploited.

There are two methods if you want to combine VPN & Tor. There are pros and cons for each one, so we’ll go through both below. (You’ll need to have both your VPN and Tor ready to use.)

Tor to VPN

This method means that you’ll connect to the VPN server first. The data sent to and from your computer will be encrypted by the VPN, then routed through the Tor network. Using Tor with VPN as a backup is a great idea, and it’s simple to configure.

However, you’ll be left at the mercy of the VPN provider, as they’ll know your location. (That’s one of many reasons why it pays to stick with a trusted VPN service.)

VPN to Tor

Alternatively, you can use Tor first, logging in to the VPN afterwards. After shooting through their router, the data will be encrypted by your VPN. Your connection will show up as the last exit point from the Tor network.

Overall, both methods are viable, but they’re more useful for different tasks. VPN connections are better for security, while Tor is one of the best ways to stay anonymous. Either method of connection is better than nothing, although both can be overkill depending on what you’re planning to use it for.

With that in mind, it’s worth mentioning that using both VPN and Tor together will probably slow down your connection unless you’re blessed with godlike internet speeds.

If you have to choose one, pick a VPN that you trust to get rid of your personal data. We’ve picked out a trio of the very best below.

Best VPNs for TOR

#1 ExpressVPN – The Ultra Fast VPN Service

ExpressVPN Logo

ExpressVPN is rated highly by the majority of experts. Their speeds are some of the best available on the market, more than able to handle high speed downloads or online gaming. Then again, if you’re reading this, it’s likely that security is one of the most important factors when making your decision. We’d plump for NordVPN if that’s your main concern.

Price:

  • One month: $12.95
  • Six months: $9.99
  • 15* months: $6.67 *Three months free

Try Now ExpressVPN – Risk Free – 30 Day Money Back Guarantee

For more information on ExpressVPN features, read our extensive ExpressVPN review.

#2 NordVPN – The Perfect VPN To Combine With TOR

 nord-vpn

If you’re planning to use both Tor & VPN, we’d go for the extra security provided by NordVPN. Their encryption is second to none, and they keep no user logs. They’ll be sure to take care of your data in the best possible way. Their speeds are good enough for most users, although it isn’t as fast as the others on this list.

Price:

  • One month: $11.95
  • 12 months: $5.75
  • 24 months: $3.29

Try Now NordVPN – Risk Free – 30 Day Money Back Guarantee

For more information on NordVPN features, read our extensive NordVPN review.

#3 CyberGhost – High-end Security Features

CyberGhost VPNThis popular VPN service offers customers over 3,700 servers around the world that they can connect to as well as having dedicated servers for streaming and torrenting. The combination of military-grade security, automatic kill switch as well as a strict no logs policy, you can be sure that all your online movements will be undetected by third parties. One of the best aspects is that CyberGhost offers customers the luxury of having a 45-day money-back guarantee, no questions asked.

Price:

  • $11.99 a month
  • $7.99 a month for a 6-month plan
  • $2.75 a month for an 18-month plan

Try Now CyberGhost – No Risk – 45 Day Money Back Guarantee

For more information on CyberGhost features, read our extensive CyberGhost review.

Conclusion

Above all, it’s important to stay safe online. Whether via Tor or VPN, it’s always best to keep your personal data as secure as possible. Using a combination of VPN with Tor is the best way to browse websites with complete peace of mind.

We’d probably go for a VPN provider over the Tor network, mostly because encryption is better than attempting to stay hidden. For the average user, it’s difficult to justify the time, cost and effort it takes to use a VPN with Tor. One should be enough, and the choice is down to you.