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Tor Browser (Thor): what is it and how does it work?

Tor is a great free browser for secure and anonymous networking. We recommend using the Thor browser along with the VPN.

Update :

Recently, the Tor network has become even safer! The changes affected the encryption algorithms and the directory system, the user authentication procedure was also improved. Also, the new onion domains will now be longer to keep the onion addresses completely private.

On this page:

What is the Tor Browser? Is it a VPN?
How does the Tor browser work?
Why use Tor Browser?
Why not use the Thor browser?
Tor Browser with VPN
Tor-through-VPN (Tor through VPN)

What is the Tor Browser? Is it a VPN?

If you want to know what Tor is, you are in the right place!

Tor is both a browser (computer program) and the network on which it works. The name is short for The Onion Router. This network was called bulbous because several layers of encryption are involved in it, protecting the online privacy of users, as several layers in the bulb envelop the core. The main task of Tor Browser is to hide user traces on the Internet. Due to this, you can work on the network completely anonymously.

Tor is not a VPN service or browser with a built-in VPN module, as many people think. You can use both the Thor browser and the VPN at the same time to protect yourself even better. But these are two very different technologies, even if both are aimed at increasing privacy.

The Thor browser was created by order of the US Navy, its task was to protect negotiations during intelligence operations. Now Tor is a non-profit organization dedicated to researching and creating online privacy and anonymity tools.

 

How does the Tor browser work?

So now you know what Tor is. Now it’s time to figure out how it works and when to use this network.

Working with Tor is relatively easy.

To work with Tor, you need to download and install Tor Browser – the actual browser configured to work with the network of the same name. You will use it instead of Chrome, Firefox or any other browser that you usually used. Everything you do through the Tor browser is not visible to governments, hackers and advertisers.

All your data is collected in encrypted packets even before they reach the Tor network. Next, Tor removes the part of the packet header, which contains information about the source, size, destination and time – that is, everything that can be used to identify the sender (you).

Then the Thor browser encrypts the remaining information, which is not possible with a normal Internet connection. Finally, encrypted data is sent through a plurality of randomly selected servers.

Each of the servers decrypts and again encrypts only the data that is necessary to determine where the packet was received from and for further data transfer. Thus, anonymity is achieved.

Encrypted address layers, which are used to anonymize data packets sent through the Tor network, look like onion layers. It is from here that this network takes its name. Below is an illustration that pretty accurately depicts how the Tor network and browser work, albeit somewhat simplistically.

 

Why use Tor Browser?

There are several reasons at once. Firstly, Tor hides your real identity by transferring your traffic to various Tor servers. This gives complete anonymity and security from anyone who tries to track your actions (be it the government, hackers or advertisers).

Thor is a gateway to the hidden Internet (Deep Web, Dark Web ). Don’t be scared by the name. Strangely enough, the share of the hidden Internet accounts for the lion’s share of the entire network. It’s just about sites that are not indexed by any search engine. Imagine an iceberg. Its top is indexed by search engines, and the underwater part is the hidden part of the network.

Many of these sites were accidentally skipped by search engines, and some specifically avoided contact with search engines. A striking example of the second type of site is various online drug stores. But Tor is needed not only by cyber-criminals. It is very popular among journalists, human rights activists and users from countries with Internet censorship. For all such people, anonymity on the net is very important.

Tor not only hides the user’s internet activity but also allows you to bypass the locks. For example, Edward Snowden worked with Tor.

Why not use the Thor browser?

The biggest minus of the Tor browser is speed. Data is sent through many servers, which greatly slows down the whole process. This becomes especially noticeable when audio and video materials are sent. Streaming or downloading files through Tor is sometimes like a nightmare. This is one of the main reasons why it is more logical for most users to use a VPN service or browser with a built-in VPN module.

It is also important to remember that even Tor will not provide complete invulnerability and protection. Confidentiality and anonymity on the Internet is not a defence against all ills.

A lot of people are sure that hacking the Tor network servers is quite simple because the exit points (the last network server, after which the sent information goes to the destination) can view your traffic if the site you want to access does not use SSL (and uses HTTP instead of HTTPS, but even this still does not guarantee anything).

Also, government agencies can determine the fact that you are using Tor. They will not see what exactly you are doing with it, but the fact of using Tor Browser is an occasion to take you on a special account.

Tor Browser with VPN

The Tor browser and VPN can be used at the same time, although you will have to tinker with the settings. There are two schemes: VPN through Tor (VPN through Tor) and Tor through VPN (Tor through VPN). In each case, the settings for confidential work are very different.

We cannot explain all the details in one article, but we will explain the main points. In the meantime, we note an important fact: no matter how you configure the connection, Tor and VPN together greatly slow down the data transfer speed. This is the fee for increased privacy on the Internet.

Tor-through-VPN

If you use a connection like Tor-through-VPN, then the chain looks like this: your computer> VPN> Tor> Internet.

The first plus of this method is that the provider does not see that you are using Tor (although it seems that you are using a VPN service). Also, the Tor server through which you enter the onion network will not see your IP address, and this in itself is an additional security measure.

The downside is that the VPN service will know your real IP address, and you won’t be able to protect yourself from dangerous exit points from the Tor network.

Some VPN services (NordVPN, Privatoria, TorVPN ) have settings for creating Tor-through-VPN connections. This is good, but using a Tor browser that provides end-to-end encryption is still better.

VPN-through-Tor (VPN through Tor)

If you use a VPN-through-Tor connection, the chain looks like this: your computer> VPN> Tor> VPN> Internet.

This type of connection is safer than the first, it provides almost complete anonymity and confidentiality of work on the Internet.

However, there are only two VPN services that support such connections, namely AirVPN and BolehVPN. If you are not confused by such a small choice, then VPN-through-Tor is the preferred option.

First, the VPN service does not know your real IP address, but only sees the IP address of the Tor exit point. If you have climbed this far, it’s worth paying for the VPN only with the help of bitcoins and only through the Tor browser. In this case, the VPN service will not have a single clue by which you can be identified, and even if the service keeps logs.

Another definite plus is protection from dangerous exit points from the Tor network (thanks to the VPN service encrypting your data).

This method allows you to bypass any blockages on the Tor exit points that you may encounter using a Tor-through-VPN connection.

If you do not want to bother with the VPN-through-Tor connection setup, you can always connect using the Tor-through-VPN scheme. To do this, you need to connect to the VPN service, and then launch the Tor browser.

How to use the Tor Browser?

To start using Tor, you need to download the Tor browser. This is a specially configured Firefox browser. We recommend that you take precautions and verify the package signature. In other words, check that you have the latest version of the program installed.

Then you need to install the Thor browser. The program will automatically install on your desktop.

Tor refers to portable programs; it does not integrate into Windows in the same way as regular programs. That is, you can launch the browser from anywhere, even from a USB flash drive.

If you want to change the installation location, just click “Browse” and select the desired folder in the window that appears. Further, the installation process will be completely ordinary.

 

How to use Tor with VPN or proxy

When the installation is complete, you will see the “Tor Browser” folder in the selected directory. Inside it, you will find the “Start Tor Browser” shortcut.

By clicking on the shortcut, you will see a dialogue box with two options: connect immediately or first configure the proxy. If you use a connection like Vpn-through-Tor or some kind of proxy service (or connect through a listened or censored network), you need to select the second option and configure everything manually.

When working through the Thor browser, first check if it works properly. To do this, just go to any site showing the visitor’s IP address. If you do not see your real IP address, then everything is in order!

And finally, a few useful tips:

  • Do not visit sites that do not have an HTTPS version, but only Tor – this is just a traffic routing tool that encrypts all traffic within the Tor network. Traffic coming from the network is no longer encrypted! This makes you vulnerable when your traffic reaches the exit points because there it is decrypted. Therefore, you need to constantly use end-to-end encryption methods and tools (SSL or TLS) and only visit sites that use the HTTPS protocol. It is not superfluous to use the HTTPS Everywhere plugin.
  • Do not download torrents through Tor. This network was not created for peer-to-peer (peer-to-peer) file sharing. Most likely, at many exit points, all this will be blocked. Using traffic like P2P slows down the speed of other users on the Tor network and threatens your anonymity (BitTorrent clients send your address to trackers and BitTorrent peers).
  • Always delete cookies. To do this, you can use add-ons, such as Self-Destructing Cookies. They allow you to automate the process.
  • Do not provide your primary email address. As one smart person said, “using Tor and entering your primary mailing address is like coming to a masquerade in a mask and with a badge that says your name.”
  • Do not use Google. This search engine is notorious for collecting information about user behaviour and the results of their search queries to increase their revenue. Instead of Google, it’s better to use DuckDuckGo.

Tor Browser: to summarize

Nowadays, it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep confidentiality, anonymity and privacy online. Governments, hackers, and even our beloved Google are coming up with increasingly sophisticated ways to track user data. Even with its shortcomings, the Tor network is an excellent tool for maintaining anonymity when working on the World Wide Web. But she does not give a one hundred percent guarantee.

If you protect yourself and your anonymity properly, use the Tor browser along with one of the following VPN services:

ExpressVPN
IPVanish
ProtonVPN
NordVPN
PureVPN

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