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Is the Tor Browser Really Private? [Privacy Features and Concerns]
Updated · Sep 27, 2023
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With the growing online engagement of users, issues about security breaches on the internet also increase. The NTIA reports that about 75% of online households in the US are concerned about their online privacy.
Security breaches can expose personal information and other sensitive data. When that happens to a person, they could experience severe repercussions to their well-being and credit. For instance, financial damages due to data breaches in 2023 reached $4.45 million, increasing by 15% over the next 3 years.
That said, ensuring privacy when browsing online is critical. This is where the Tor browser comes in handy. It is a way to secure a user’s online activity.
Many negative issues with the Tor browser circulating online involve safety and privacy. In this article, you will learn whether the Tor browser is safe.
🔑 Key Takeaways:
What is Tor Browser and How It Works
Tor (The onion router) helps users browse the internet anonymously. It redirects the web traffic through various routers, hiding the user’s IP address.
These routers are known as nodes, also called “onion routers.” Every node “peels away” a layer of encryption until the encrypted data reaches its final stop.
Tor encrypts the data before anonymously transmitting it to three layers of international proxies, making up the Tor circuit. Then, the data arrives at its final destination.
See the picture below to visualize how the Tor browser sends web traffic from the entry node to the exit node.
The Tor circuit is made up of three layers of network nodes:
- Entry node
The entry node is also known as the guard node. It’s where the Tor client or source connects and introduces the data into the Tor circuit.
The IP address is visible on the entry node. However, the attacker cannot know with whom it is connecting.
- Middle node
This node is the second one to which Tor clients connect. The data here is fully encrypted. It is then sent to the next node, which decrypts the data one layer at a time.
Moreover, the middle node is randomly selected within the Tor circuit. IP addresses or the domain where Tor clients connect are not visible in the middle node.
- Exit node
This is the node where the web traffic leaves the Tor network and is sent to the desired destination. The data that is left here has already been decrypted.
That said, the Tor browser goes a long way to ensure user anonymity. However, there are still questions about its legitimacy and safety. Find out more about that in the next section.
Legit or Trap: Is the Tor Browser Private?
The Tor Network is designed for complete anonymity. Identities and online activity are never revealed within the Onion networks. However, it can only strengthen the user’s online privacy, not protect them from all the online dangers. That said, Tor is not 100% secure.
The traffic that passes through Tor nodes is decrypted before reaching the open internet. The IP address can be visible before the entry node, and the traffic is visible after the exit node.
When someone is spying on the exit node, they see the user’s activity, although they won’t know to whom it belongs.
To ensure security while using Tor, check out this video on how to avoid exit nodes.
YouTube: Malicious TOR Exit Nodes Spying on Users and Stealing Bitcoin From Them (9:45 - 10:12)
Advantages and Downsides of Tor Browser
Using the Tor browser gives users security and privacy advantages. However, there are also some downsides to using it.
To help users decide whether to use Tor, below is a list of some advantages and downsides to using the Tor Network.
Advantages of Using Tor
Using Tor is entirely free
Downloading and installing the Tor browser is free. The Tor Project is created and run by volunteers. Its code is open source, which means anyone can review it.
Tor enhances the user's online privacy by encrypting their traffic. Tracking the user’s activity is difficult with the Tor browser.
Only way to access onion sites
The dark web is also known as the Onion Site. It needs specialized web browsers such as Tor to access.
Tor allows users to open Onion sites safely and hide their IP addresses.
More secure than regular browsers
Tor has security-centered features such as NoScript, HTTPS Everywhere, and encrypted data.
Unlike other browsers that log large amounts of data and sell it to third parties, Tor is a lot safer. Tor keeps no logs that identify the user and route the data traffic.
As mentioned, users need a specialized browser like Tor to access the dark web. This keeps them safe from potential cyber threats while navigating the dark web. To learn more, read the article about the safer way to access the dark web.
Downsides of Using Tor
Expect that Tor has a slower connection than a regular browser.
As mentioned earlier, a single request in Tor’s system goes through multiple layers or nodes. This causes the connection to travel longer than usual, as nodes can be far apart.
Exit nodes don‘t encrypt data
The moment data reaches exit nodes, it is decrypted. This makes it easier for others to see the content of the data.
Anyone watching at the exit node could steal information.
Most people think Tor is used for illegal activities
For a good reason, Tor was developed to protect users' privacy.
However, many people use it to hide their identities while engaging in unlawful acts. That’s how Tor began to be associated with illegal activities.
🎉 Did You Know?
Approximately 48% of the Internet consists of the dark web. A stolen credit card can only cost as little as $9. No wonder Tor and the dark web are always associated with illegal activities.
How to Stay Safe When Browsing on Tor?
Users must always prioritize their safety when browsing on Tor to prevent data leaks, spying, and other forms of cyberattacks.
To do that, you should be aware of the following security practices when using the Tor browser:
1. Configuration of Security Settings
Users can choose from three security levels when using the Tor browser. However, you must set it to the Safest level for the best setting:
- Click the “shield icon” next to the address bar.
- Select the Advanced Security Setting.
2. Avoid Using Personal Information
Tor’s purpose is to protect anonymity, so you should avoid any activity that can reveal your identity.
When doing Tor-related activities, avoid using your personal information, such as:
- Personal email
- Debit and credit cards
- Other personal information
You can create a temporary email account when transacting in the Tor browser instead. You can access these temporary accounts once and delete them after each use.
3. Always Keep Your System Updated
Your device’s operating system can be prone to bugs. Additionally, outdated operating systems can be taken advantage of by attackers. They use it to exploit loopholes to get past the Tor shield.
That said, keep your system updated. Doing so helps prevent bugs, cyber attackers, and other vulnerabilities compromising safety and security.
4. Downloading Tor From Its Official Site
Hackers create fake Tor mirror sites to lure users to download malware-infected files. That is why you should never download Tor from a third-party website.
Users can safely download Tor through this site https://www.torproject.org/.
Malware is a collective term for various computer programs that infect computers and could damage them. To learn more, read Techjury’s article about numerous malware programs.
5. Use Known Darkweb Search Engines
Instead of using Google searches, it is advisable to use index Onion sites.
Unlike Google Search, they don’t track, create logs, store cookies, or save anything to a device. Some reputable search engines include DuckDuckGo and Ahmia.
Browsing the dark web is different from browsing a regular search engine. A specialized search browser is used to access the dark web. To learn more, read Techjury’s article about the best dark web search engines on the market.
Best VPNs for Tor Browser
Using a VPN for the Tor Browser provides an added layer of security. VPNs provide various benefits to users, including obscuring their traffic data and spoofing their location.
Security, privacy, and speed are the top considerations when choosing VPNs for the Tor browser.
Here are the top 3 VPNs for the Tor browser:
NordVPN provides Tor users access to specific servers preconfigured with Tor over VPN. It first diverts all the traffic to a VPN, then redirects through the Tor network.
This is great if users have apps other than an internet browser they want to use with Tor. NordVPN also has a double VPN option that uses two VPNs with the Tor browser. However, it may slow down the internet connection.
Another great feature of NordVPN is its strict zero-log policy. No one can see the user's online activities.
NordVPN also accepts Bitcoin payments for its 3 subscription plans:
- Standard - $12.99/mo
- Plus - $12.99/mon
- Complete - $14.49/mo
✅ Pro Tip:
Users can get discounts and the lowest price for a NordVPN subscription if they pay to sign up for a longer period.
A two-year standard monthly plan is $9 cheaper than the regular monthly rate. Students can also avail a 15% discount for a two-year plan.
ExpressVPN is another good option for using Tor. It has a helpful feature called“Network Lock” or Internet Kill Switch.
A VPN connection kill switch disconnects the user's internet traffic when the VPN connection drops. This can prevent data leaks that let the user’s ISP know they are using Tor.
Recently, ExpressVPN has also launched its “.onion” version of its website. This is for users who want to make an account anonymously. Like other VPNs, ExpressVPN accepts Bitcoin and has a strict no-logging policy.
Compared to other VPNs, ExpressVPN is more expensive. Its monthly subscription rate is $12.95 / month. If users opt for a longer plan of 6 months, it costs $9.99/month.
One of the best features of Surfshark for using the Tor browser is the split tunnelling feature called “bypasser.” It enables you to configure the Tor browser to utilize the VPN tunnel while permitting other apps to access the Internet directly.
Other features of Surfshark include camouflage mode and multi-hop features. It adds an extra layer of protection for users. The users can simultaneously connect to unlimited devices.
Surfshark offers 3 kinds of subscription plans:
- Surfshark Starter - $ 12.95/mon
- Surfshark One - $ 17.95/mon
- Surfshark One++ - $22.95/mon
Perfect protection for online security and privacy is nearly impossible, and the same applies to the Tor browser. It can provide anonymity and enhance the privacy of its users. However, it cannot protect users from all potential cyberattacks.
Nonetheless, using a Tor browser is better than not having any protection at all.
Who controls Tor?
The Tor Project currently manages the software for The Tor anonymity network. Volunteers are in charge of creating and running it.
Can Tor history be recovered?
Some history of using Tor can be recovered, such as the time when users used Tor. However, recovering the specific browsing activity and its contents is unlikely.
Who can see what you search for on Tor?
No one can see the websites users visit using the Tor browser. However, service providers or network administrators can see the Tor browser when users connect to Tor.
Your email address will not be published.
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