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In Detail: Is Tor Browser Safe and Legal?
Updated · Aug 26, 2023
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With technological advancement, internet privacy has become more crucial. Many innovations were directed toward online anonymity to stop cyber criminals from committing cyberattacks.
Among these innovations is the Tor browser. Tor became publicly available in 2003 with its software version.
In 2023, the browser already had more than 2 million daily users and became one of the most used networks globally.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the Tor browser and whether it’s safe or legal.
What is Tor?
Tor, an acronym for The Onion Router, is an open-source privacy network that allows anonymous web browsing by encrypting your data and hiding your IP address.
The US Navy initially crafted Tor as a top-level security network. In 2017, its public version was launched to address internet freedom and privacy concerns.
The browser is often a first line of defense against cyberattacks. This is because it comprises a three-layered proxy (like the layers of an onion). It connects randomly to one of the public nodes for entry, redirects the user’s traffic to a middle node, and lets it leave through the final exit node.
Simply put, online privacy is not a myth if you use Tor. When enabled, services will often assume that you are browsing from across the world.
Additionally, if your country blocks Tor, you can configure it to use bridge IP addresses. These IP addresses are not listed publicly, so they can make it difficult for government and web services to blacklist your real IP address.
Is TOR Browser Safe?
Every 39 seconds, a hacking incident occurs somewhere in the world. One of Tor’s many benefits involves defending against these incidents. Through traffic encryption, Tor provides increased anonymity, saving you from certain attacks.
Specifically, Tor offers the following safety benefits:
Tor has three layers of encryption.
The three nodes make you anonymous inside the Tor browser by randomizing and decentralizing your server network. This way, your location is masked as it bounces off your data into different servers every ten minutes.
Tor uses a decentralized server network.
Tor is a community-based network operated by volunteers’ decentralized network of servers. The randomness of its network guarantees that the server cannot access your identity and internet activities. This is why Tor is often used for accessing the dark web and the cool websites that dwell in it.
💡 Did You Know?
Contrary to popular belief, only 1.5% of Tor browser traffic is for visiting illicit sites on the dark web. Most people use the browser to access censored content on regular websites, ones that are found on the surface web.
Tor is permitted almost everywhere.
Almost every country allows Tor browser usage. However, some countries such as Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and China banned and blocked its use to practice state censorship.
Using the Tor browser offers a lot of benefits. However, it is also helpful to be cautious of these two risks:
1. Vulnerability in the guardian and exit node. Your IP address is visible to the guardian node (first layer of encryption). By theory, your traffic will also be visible to anyone operating the exit node (the last layer of encryption).
2. Malware in your device. Many types of malware attacks are happening digitally. Malware can also spread on your device through the Tor browser if you use it to access dubious sites on the dark web.
The Tor browser offers many advantages, especially if you aim to stay anonymous online. Just remember not to use the browser to visit illicit sites and perform illegal activities.
Is TOR Browser Legal?
Using the Tor browser is legal, just like any regular browser. That’s because, on its own, Tor is a software application that doesn’t infringe on any rights.
Tor's most common legal purposes are:
1. Protecting journalists and their sources from authoritarian regimes’ actions
2. Tracking criminals by law enforcement
3. Running security tests on systems by IT experts
The Tor browser is permitted in most countries, except North Korea, China, and Iran–– the top most censored nations in the world.
In stark contrast, the browser is very popular in the US. According to Tor Project, different American sponsors even fund the platform, including US federal agencies.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Tor Browser
The Tor browser is safe to download if you are an advanced user. However, some vulnerabilities might put your security and identity at risk. It also has its pros and cons.
👍 Helpful Articles:
Tor is often associated with the Internet’s dark corners and back alleyways–– the deep web and dark web. If you plan on using Tor to explore these mysterious digital territories, ensure you have the right tools to maintain your safety. Here are articles that can help you:
Enhancing TOR Browser Safety with VPN
As previously mentioned, the Onion network has vulnerability issues at the entry and exit nodes. Your IP address becomes fully decrypted after passing through those points. They could be intercepted, and your IP address could get exposed.
If you are a casual user of the Tor browser, consider using VPNs like ExpressVPN to enhance your safety.
ExpressVPN has one of the most robust protection among all the VPNs available online. Aside from its speed, ExpressVPN also puts effort into creating a .onion version of itself to deliver its promise of high security.
Moreover, ExpressVPN subscribers can customize VPN protocols and settings through OpenVPN, SSTP, L2TP/IPsec, and PPTP. This allows its subscribers to add as much protection as they need.
How To Use Tor with VPN
Tor and an effective VPN service go hand-in-hand for maximum privacy and protection. You can use these tools following two methods:
For Tor-over-VPN, the steps are:
1. Connect to your VPN
2. Route your web traffic using Tor
The first step lets the VPN encrypt all your data, while the second step hides your Tor connection from your service provider.
This way, even the Tor network can’t see your IP address, and the node vulnerability issues are significantly lessened.
This method can be done by:
1. Connecting to the Tor network.
2. Use VPN to pick the server location.
This method prevents your private VPN provider from seeing your IP address, which is the opposite of the first method.
VPN-over-Tor also gives you the benefit of choosing another service location, so it’s a better option if you want to access geo-restricted content.
In this digital age, many ways exist to protect yourself from cybercriminal attacks. One is by using the Tor browser. Through Tor, you can keep your web traffic private and cover your digital traces with its three layers of encryption.
If you want to enhance your online security, consider using the Tor browser.
Does Tor Browser record history?
No. Tor offers complete anonymity, and that extends to your browsing history. After closing your session, the Tor browser deletes all your history.
Is it safe to use Tor without VPN?
Yes, it is safe to use Tor without a VPN. Although VPN and Tor simultaneously can prevent IP address exposure to nodes, the Tor browser is still highly secure with its network.
Who created Tor?
The Onion Router, the original software, was created by employees Paul Syverson, Michael Reed, and David Goldschlag. These three employees were from the US Naval Research Laboratory.
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