Tor, which stands as an acronym for The Onion Router, is free software that allows anonymity on the Internet through a close-by-close routing algorithm.
In the Tor network, the generated online traffic is anonymous, without registering the list of search terms and without keeping track of the IPs from which the respective searches were initialized. Tor user activity cannot be detected due to a special system that picks up signals between different IP addresses. Tor also allows this mechanism to access sites that are filtered by proxy servers installed on the network.
Tor is also a browser, a gateway to the darknet, a unique “dark internet“, as well as accessing deep web sites that end with “.onion“.
But to be clear, Tor is neither a VPN nor a built-in VPN browser. Although both Tor and VPNs allow private Internet browsing, these are very different technologies.
Tor was initially developed by the US Navy to protect US government communications during espionage operations. It is now a non-profit organization that promotes online confidentiality.
Tor’s use is relatively easy. Download and install the Tor Browser, which will replace Chrome, Firefox or any other browser you normally use. Whatever you do on your Tor browser is private and secure.
Tor combines data in encrypted packets before entering it into the network. It then removes the part of the package that contains information such as source, size, destination, and time data, all of which can be used to find out about sender data. Then, it encrypts the rest of the information before finally sending it through many different servers or relays, at random, so that it cannot be traced.
Each relay decrypts and then re-encrypts just enough data to know where it came from and where the packet will go, but it can’t track information beyond that. Many encryption layers used by Tor to ensure anonymity are similar to an onion, hence the name. The Tor network hides your identity by moving your activity from the Internet through different servers. It allows complete anonymity and security against anyone trying to track your activity, such as authorities, hackers and advertisers.
It is very popular among journalists, activists, human rights workers, and information officers, especially among those who live or work in countries with Internet restrictions. Tor not only hides activity on the Internet, but also helps bypass restrictions. Tor’s biggest shortcoming is his performance. Or, rather, its lack. Because the data goes through so many relays, Tor is very slow, especially for audio and video. This can make streaming or downloading files a nightmare and is one of the main reasons why using a VPN or a built-in VPN browser is preferred by many users.
It is also important to know that using Tor does not make you 100% invulnerable. In fact, many think Tor is pretty easy to unpack, because the exit nodes, the last relay before your information reaches its destination, can see your traffic if the site you’re accessing doesn’t use SSL. Using HTTPS instead of HTTP may add an additional layer of protection, but it is not yet certain. Finally, government agencies can see if you are using Tor. So even if I don’t see what you are doing, it can still be a cause for suspicion. Tor, together with a VPN can be used together, but the relationship is a bit complex. You can set Tor over VPN or VPN over Tor, but there is a big difference between the two.
We will not shift into too technical terms, but it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. Also, keep in mind that no matter which setting you use, it will significantly reduce performance.