If you are concerned about privacy and want one of the most well-protected browsers available, you should try the Tor Browser. It is free and open-source software that enables anonymous internet communication.
Today we’re taking a closer look at The Onion Router, known better by its acronym Tor. Sure it may have a reputation within the cybersecurity world as the dark web browser.
But don’t discredit this powerful privacy tool just because a few bad apples use it from time to time.
Despite its darker users, Tor offers an unparalleled level of anonymity that can aid anyone in protecting their privacy.
At its heart, Tor’s intended to protect the personal privacy of its users and their freedom from conducting confidential communication.
How Does Tor Work
There are many ways the internet can identify you, but the easiest and most common method is via your IP address. It functions like a virtual name tag that offers information about your name, location, and web browsing activity.
By making your IP address untraceable, Tor cloaks this identifying information of your online activity. But how?
In any regular online activity, you create a direct connection between your computer and the website you’re accessing. Unfortunately, this digital line of communication is visible to online trackers and left wide open for anyone to see.
On the other hand, Tor passes along your information using layers of encryption, hence the onion reference.
Rather than sending you directly to a website, Tor encrypts the application layer of your activity and redirects your traffic through a worldwide network made up of thousands of relays or nodes.
As the images below illustrate, these nodes can be an entry node, relay node, or exit node.
Tor Browser connects at random to one of the publicly listed entry nodes. As your information passes from node to node, each one decrypts the layer that reveals the next node the data has to pass through. And all without divulging the locations of its last relay.
Each node receives information about where next to send the encrypted layers throughout this global ping-pong. All while the original and intermediary node locations remain entirely unknown.
At the end of its worldwide tour, your traffic will arrive at an exit node, removing the final encryption layer and sending the original data to its destination. Again, all without knowing or revealing the actual IP address.
Because this data was concealed from the outset, this method removes the ability of any network surveillance to identify the source or destination information at any single point within the node relay.
To put things short, Tor provides anonymity for the source of the communication (your computer or network) and the destination (a website or server).
How to Browse with Tor
You need to install the Tor Browser to access the Tor network. It is currently available for Linux, Windows, and macOS. There’s also a version of Tor Browser for Android, but there is not yet an official version for iOS due to technical restrictions on Apple’s proprietary iOS platform.
Remember that the Tor Browser is generally much slower than your bare internet connection. Because your online traffic is sent through different nodes, your internet connection will have to go a long way around and therefore become significantly slower.
The Tor Browser works just like a regular web browser. It is just a modified version of Firefox. Unlike other web browsers, though, the Tor Browser sends your communications through the Tor network. As a result, don’t be surprised if Google or another service greets you in a foreign language.
These services look at your IP address and guesstimate your country and language, but when using Tor, you will often appear to be in a physical location halfway around the world.
Installing Tor Browser on Linux is a straightforward process similar to installing any other software.
Installing Tor Browser on Ubuntu
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:micahflee/ppa sudo apt update sudo apt install torbrowser-launcher
To start the Tor Browser Launcher from the application menu, click on the application icon and search “Tor Browser Launcher.”
Check the “Download over system Tor” and click on “Install Tor Browser.” It will download and install all the related dependencies automatically.
Once you’re done configuring, press the “Connect” button, and your Tor Browser will open. You can now use it freely.
And there you go, you have successfully installed Tor Browser on your Linux machine.
Installing Tor Browser on Debian
sudo dnf install -y torbrowser-launcher torbrowser-launcher
Installing Tor Browser on Fedora
Fedora users should run the commands below.
sudo dnf install -y torbrowser-launcher torbrowser-launcher
Installing Tor Browser on openSUSE
openSUSE users should run the commands below.
sudo zypper install torbrowser-launcher torbrowser-launcher
Installing Tor Browser on Arch Linux
Arch Linux users should run the commands below.
pacman -S torbrowser-launcher systemctl enable tor systemctl start tor torbrowser-launcher
Who Should Use Tor
If you’re just another user spending time on YouTube, emails, or social networking sites, you don’t need Tor. Tor is just going to slow down your connection. It’s more likely that you need to secure your internet rather than anonymize it.
However, some people need to keep their activities private and so can prefer Tor over other browsers.
For example, perhaps you end up with an embarrassing medical condition, and you want to search for information about it. Still, you don’t want Google and every advertiser to know about your bodily functions.
Tor is useful for anyone who wants to keep their internet activities out of the hands of advertisers, ISPs, and websites. Journalists, for example, use Tor to protect the identities of their sources.
In addition, citizens who live in countries where internet access is heavily restricted use Tor to bypass those restrictions. Finally, victims of violent crimes might turn to Tor to engage in confidential discussions with a support group.
Last but not least, Tor can also protect your data from hackers on your network.
Keep in mind that using the Tor network can draw unwanted attention to you. Although your ISP can’t see your activity, it can detect that you’re connected to Tor. This may be enough to raise suspicion and could even turn you into a target for government surveillance.
In addition, it’s important to remember that Tor Browser is just that: a browser. It can’t encrypt any of your other activities.
Tor, at its core, only gives you network-level anonymity. It won’t help you with applications on your computer that retain your identity and provide your identity to the internet service providers.
What Are .onion Sites?
Any website part of the Tor network has a URL that ends in .onion and can only be accessed using Tor. Tor Browser gives you access to .onion websites only within the Tor network.
These special websites and services use strong encryption, mask metadata like the user’s IP address, and even mask the address of the site they’re visiting.
Unfortunately, the .onion websites tend to live on messy URLs. They are almost impossible to remember, but they frequently change to maintain their privacy.
For example, try to access The New York Times at https://www.nytimes3xbfgragh.onion using a regular web browser. Didn’t work, did it? You can only reach these sites over Tor. This makes it possible to read the news anonymously.
This is a desirable feature in a country where you don’t want the government to know which news sites you’re reading, when you’re reading them and how long.
In addition, Facebook launched an onion site in 2014 to improve access to Facebook over Tor, with an eye toward privacy-conscious users and those in countries where Facebook is blocked.
The Dark Web, also known as Darknet websites, is accessible only through networks such as Tor. It is a part of the internet hidden from search engines and uses masked IP addresses.
It is only accessible using a particular web browser such as Tor Browser. Often described as the “dark side” of the internet, there’s a specific public perception of the dark web.
In most countries, it’s not illegal to browse with Tor or access .onion websites. So, accessing and browsing the dark web is entirely legal. But keep in mind that some dark websites are used for criminal activity, primarily drugs, money laundering, and trading in stolen credentials.
The freedom to communicate, publish, and read anonymously is a prerequisite for freedom of expression online and thus a prerequisite for democracy today.
The Tor Browser is a web browser that anonymizes your web traffic using the Tor network, making it easy to protect your identity online. It is a grand champion in the world of online privacy.
Tor provides users with the freedom to visit any website they like and online anonymity. However, this protection is limited to their browser.
But nothing is foolproof, not even Tor. If you use Tor the wrong way, you can destroy your anonymity. For example, if you use Tor to log in to Facebook or Gmail, they may not know where you are coming from, but they will certainly know who you are.
When appropriately used, Tor is one of the best tools for internet privacy.