How to Browse with Tor to Protect Your Privacy Online

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How to Browse with Tor

If you are concerned about privacy and want one of the most well-protected browsers available, then 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 knows better by its acronym Tor. Sure it may a reputation within the cybersecurity world as the dark web browser of choice. 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, as well as their freedom to conduct confidential communication.

How Does Tor Work

There are a lot of 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?

Well, in any normal online activity, you’re create a direct connection between your computer and the website you’re accessing. This digital line of communication is visible to online trackers and left wide open for anyone to see. Tor on the other hand 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 redirect your traffic through a worldwide network made up of thousands of relays or nodes. These nodes can be an entry node, relay node, or exit node, as the images below illustrate.

How Does Tor Work

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. All without divulging the locations of its last relay. Throughout this global ping-pong, each node is receiving information about where to next send the encrypted layers. All while the original and intermediary node locations remain completely unknown.

At the end of its worldwide tour, your traffic will arrive at an exit node, which removes the final layer of encryption and sends the original data to its destination. All without knowing or revealing the original IP address. Because this data was concealed from the outset, this method removes the ability for 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

In order to access the Tor network, you simply need to install the Tor Browser. 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.

Keep in mind, 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 the 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 and similar to installing any other software.

Installing Tor Browser on Ubuntu and Linux Mint

The latest version of the Tor Browser can be downloaded and installed on Ubuntu and Linux Mint through the Tor Browser Launcher script.

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”.

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.

Tor Browser Connect

And there you go, you have successfully installed Tor Browser on your Linux machine.

Tor Browser

Installing Tor Browser on Debian

If you’re on Debian stable, you’ll need to configure your stable system to use the Debian backports repository. The torbrowser-launcher package is in the contrib repo.

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

Well if you’re just another user spending time in YouTube, mails 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 there are people who 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 but 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. Citizens who live in countries where internet access is heavily restricted use Tor to bypass those restrictions. 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 is that it can draw unwanted attention to you. Although your ISP can’t see your activity, it can see 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 activity. 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 that is 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 that are only available within the Tor network.

These special websites and services use strong encryption, mask metadata like the IP address of the user, and even mask the address of the site they’re visiting. The .onion websites tend to live on messy URLs. Not only are they 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 knowing which news sites you’re reading, when you’re reading them, and for how long.

The New York Times Onion Website

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, are 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 special web browser such as Tor Browser. Often described as the “dark side” of the internet, there’s a certain 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 of the dark websites are used for criminal activity, primarily drugs, money laundering and trading in stolen credentials.

Bottom Line

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 great champion in the world of online privacy. Tor provides users with the freedom to visit any website they like and offers them a certain degree of 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 end up destroying your own anonymity. For example, if you use Tor to log into Facebook or Gmail, they may not know where you are coming from but they will certainly know who you are.

When used properly Tor is one of the best tools for internet privacy that exists.

2 Comments

  1. Be careful with TOR’s browser anonymity! I used it month ago inside Whonix TOR distro, it did not prevent the “ClientRects” Fingerprinting, as you can check here: https://browserleaks.com/rects. Clientrects fingerprint allows your browser to be identified through sessions, just as canvas or webgl (this can be effectively disabled through no script addon).
    Always do all the tests at browserleaks.com and some others privacy checkers before using your browser. And use anonymity for good purposes!

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