Originally referred to as the onion router because of its onion-like traffic layers, Tor is a free network of servers or nodes whose function is to route internet traffic randomly between each other for obfuscation of the source of the data. Using the Tor browser is a great way to stay anonymous online and ensure you have privacy.
You must have heard negative remarks about Tor from the press and government agencies, but it is not all bad as it has its good side too. Tor is useful to journalists for instance, as they can have secure and anonymous communication without fear of getting into trouble with the government. Some whistle blowing cases require very secure communications like the revelations of Edward Snowden. Tor is also essential for use by law enforcement as it gives them room to carry out covert operations and online investigations. Currently, the number of Tor users stands at two million daily users and most of these numbers are from the United States, Germany, and Russia.
Tor has various applications including browsing the dark web, hiding your IP address, and anonymously running a server. The use of Tor is not a replacement for the use of a VPN as Tor only makes you browse anonymously and stay anonymous on other online services that you have selected and configured.
To have better internet security and privacy, you should consider connecting to Tor through a VPN. Doing this will hide your browsing data even from the VPN company, hide your home IP address from the Tor entry node.
To explain how Tor works, we will make use of an instance in which the internet and computers are not in existence and people still have to post mails in order to communicate. In this reality of no computers and internet, people read the hard copy of books obviously and those who would want to have the books delivered to them would look up the publisher’s address on the yellow pages, and send them a postcard. The content of the postcard will express your desire to purchase a book you like and it will also have your address on it so the publisher knows where to send the book to. The problem now is that you won’t have any form of privacy as everyone that plays a part in the delivery would know what you read and this is applicable to everyone who makes orders.
To have a bit of privacy and protection, it would be wise to put your request in an envelope and seal it. That way you know the content of your request won’t be seen by just anybody as the seals can’t be opened without being broken. So all the post offices would have are lists of deliveries and the addresses. They won’t know what the content of the envelopes are.
The metadata of the delivery would include the size and weight of the envelope, and also the addresses of both the sender and the recipient. Metadata can reveal a lot even if the envelope itself isn’t opened and it can be likened to a situation where you know from the size and details on an envelope that you are getting a speeding ticket.
There are protocols and programs today on the internet that act in almost the same way as the above illustration. Cryptographic seals act like the seals of an envelope and are meant to be impossible to open. Some basic forms of encryption, however, are not yet standard (transport layer security TLS for instance) and you can confirm its active status by looking out for a green lock in the address bar.
Before you make use of the Tor network to send anonymous requests, you need to establish a Tor circuit. To establish the circuit, you need to send your “sealed postcard in an envelope” to a random Tor node which could be a residential address or a public address. It could be anywhere from your neighbor’s house to an address in another country. This node is referred to like your entry node and it is the address where all your sealed mails will be sent and where all the mails you receive will come through.
Your entry node as the first address your mail gets to will then forward the mail to yet another address, which will also forward the mail to a final node known as the exit node. Only the final address (exit node) knows the address of the recipient of your request.
The working of the system of nodes are explained below:
1 . The entry mode knows who you are but doesn’t know what your request is nor who you are requesting it from.
2 . The middle model has no information but is useful as it separates the entry node and the exit node from each other.
3. The exit node doesn’t know who you are but knows what your request is. Since in an ideal situation you will be making use of TLS encryption to make your request, the exit node can see who you are making the request from but won’t know the content of your request.
The Tor system of ensuring privacy could also hypothetically work for physical mail but obviously, it will need a lot of effort and resources to ensure the rerouting and sealing of the envelopes. The electronic way in which Tor operates is far more convenient but it relies on individuals to volunteer and runs Tor nodes on their servers or in their homes.
In the Tor chain, the exit node is the most vulnerable. If your connection to a website is not encrypted using TLS, you can’t be sure that the exit node is not logging the content of your request, altering them, or adding malicious content to them. If you do not configure your system properly, things like cookies and the content of your communication could still take away your anonymity and you would be identified.
Due to the risk involved in the use of exit nodes, you may want to avoid using it, and the good news is it is possible. For that to work however, the website you are visiting needs to have its setup with a .onion address. A .onion address is not like the regular domain name because you can’t formally register it. The domains are strings generated by a public cryptographic key and such domains remove the exit node. Using such a domain also goes further to make it impossible for both the user and the site to know where the other party is.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about using Tor and setting up a proxy amongst other things.
It is easy to run the Tor browser and this is partly because it doesn’t require any installation before use as you can run the .exe or .dmg files from your USB stick directly. This feature makes it very convenient to use the Tor browser on any computer, even those that don’t allow any installations like in the office or in school.
Immediately you start the Tor browser, it will ask you about your network. You can start using the internet immediately if your network is free from censorship, if not you will have to provide more information including your local proxy service so that the browser can avoid the censorship. Using this browser is basically the same as you would normal browsers and you can also resolve addresses on the dark web. Addresses on the dark web are those ending in .onion and the server cannot be easily identified, seized, or censored. With the Tor browser, you can stay secure and private with ease but you still have to be careful so as not to hand over sensitive information that will compromise your security.
The Tor browser is similar to your regular browser but not in every aspect as it will avoid some actions for good reasons. Do not install plugins or add-ons because these may connect back to servers outside the Tor network and your IP address and other private information like your browsing history would be revealed.
While using the Tor browser, you need to be extra careful to ensure that all the sites you connect to are using HTTPS. Just as it is on public Wi-Fi, there is no way to be sure if the exit node is secure or to know who is running it. You also can’t know what the node is doing as it could be reading, intercepting, or altering your requests. The exit node could also be trying to take away the TLS security from the site so always look out for the lock icon on the address bar. In its absence, a malicious exit node may create an encrypted connection between itself and the server you are connecting to, implying that the traffic between you and the server can be read.
Even though the Tor browser doesn’t save but rather deletes your browsing history and cookies each time you start up, browsing through the internet could cause compromising cookies to be loaded on your machine.
Be also wary of contents you download from the web as they could contain snippets of codes that could give away your IP address. It is best that downloaded documents be opened when your computer has no internet connection, or on a virtual machine.
Tor browser also protects your metadata from prying eyes by embedding it among other traffic. So if your load on the Tor network is high, you can possibly be identified from your metadata.
Tor is not only used for browsing as you can also set it up as a proxy network to route all data through the Tor network. Tor uses SOCKS5 proxy and many applications like Pidgin, Adium, Dropbox, and Core and Electrum bitcoin wallets support this protocol and allow you to stay anonymous by routing your traffic through the Tor network. To stay truly anonymous, you have to be connected to Tor while you sign up for all your accounts, make software downloads through Tor, and only connect to these services using Tor.
You can also use Tor as a reverse proxy and make the services on your web server available through a .onion address. Doing this protects you and your users from having your server location revealed, and also protects you from bad exit nodes.
You have to note that it is not recommended that you torrent through the Tor network as modern BitTorrent clients use UDP protocol and it does not work over Tor. This will ultimately cause your data to be transmitted outside Tor and reveal your IP address, or have your data not transmitted at all.
Many systems blacklist all known Tor entry nodes so as to ban any form of Tor traffic. You can get around this ban by connecting to a bridge. What a bridge does is similar to an entry node only that you will have to manually get IP addresses. Connecting to Tor with a bridge has no significant drawbacks except that in most situations you may not be able to avoid Tor obstructions. To get better results, connect to a VPN first and then connect to the Tor network.
When you connect with a VPN, the sites you are visiting and the Tor entry nodes won’t know your location but the VPN Company will. The data you transfer will be encrypted and the VPN Company will not be able to see the content of your traffic even if they tried to.
In theory, you can also connect first to the Tor network and then tunnel a VPN through it. Doing this makes it impossible for your VPN service provider to know your location and it also ensures that exit nodes can’t read the content of your traffic or alter it. It is only theoretical because most VPN service providers do not support this feature.
Your use of Tor, a VPN service, or combining the two allows sites and networks to have different information about you.
You can’t and shouldn’t use the Tor network to hide your torrent traffic even though you are provided with one of the most convenient ways to share files with others; onions are. It is easier than sending email attachments and making use of dropbox, and it is also very secure. If you are using onionshare, you just have to select the file and a link will be given to the file. You can then share this link with the person you intend to share the file with. During the sharing process, you and the recipient need to keep your Tor browser open. A good part of all this is that there is no need to know each other’s location.
Onionshare is the only means of sharing files that keeps you anonymous. Note however that the file you share can be downloaded by anyone who has the link, so when sharing the link make use of an encrypted means. You also have the option of closing the server after the recipient has downloaded the file. This is to ensure that the file is downloaded once and by the intended recipient.
SecureDrop or DeadDrop as it was formerly called is a software that allows you to safely leak information to the press over the Tor network. It runs on a server that belongs to a journalist or news organization that can only be reached through Tor. The whistleblower can upload any kind of information to this server and they receive a code that can later be used to submit more information to the server or have secret and anonymous communication with the journalists.
The Tor browser for Android is Orbot and it can be downloaded in the google play store and the guardian project official app repository. Orbot can also be used as a proxy in configuring other apps like Chat Secure so as to route traffic through the Tor network. Using this combination offers you the same protection as using Tor messenger on your desktop computer.
You can run the Linux operating system; The Amnesic Incognito Live System from your USB stick or a DVD. It comes preinstalled with good encryption software like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and OTR and routes all your traffic through the Tor network automatically. This way you can easily remain anonymous and attacks from bugs are alleviated too.
Since it can be run from your USB stick or DVD, you can easily take it with you and use it even on devices that do not allow installation of software. The Amnesic Incognito Live System will give you a safe connection and allows you to maintain a separate identity while using your own computer and when using a public one.
Tor is generally secure but doesn’t oversell it. Tor browser and Tor messenger are preconfigured to route your internet traffic through the Tor network and also give security to your personal information but they are many ways in which the system could get compromised and your details leaked.
If an attacker is in control of a good portion of the Tor network, they could run network analysis to correlate traffic on the entry and exit nodes. Having this information could then allow them to figure out who is viewing what and there go your privacy and anonymity.
Those who are at higher risk are those who operate popular and big sites on the dark web. It would be difficult to keep your location anonymous because the more traffic you get, the less of a challenge it is for your attacker to know the destination of your traffic.
Even though the Tor network has its primary support from the United States government, it needs the efforts of volunteers and activists to remain secure. For it to be more balanced and independent, it needs additional support and you can provide the support in any of the following ways:
1. Make use of Tor: using it will provide you with good internet security and will make it widely known as a great everyday tool.
2. Become a Tor developer: by becoming a Tor developer, you bring in your skills to help take the platform to greater heights. These skills should, of course, aim at increasing its security, documentation and other features.
3. Donate to making Tor better: Tor accepts donations in bitcoin, PayPal, and Dwolla because there is still a lot that needs to be done to make the Tor project even better.
4. Run a relay: if you do have additional bandwidth available, you can volunteer to run a relay from your home or from your own server.
5. Donate to a node provider
There are other projects apart from Tor that attempt to provide maximum internet security and anonymity for users. Other projects that are good alternatives include:
1 . Ultrasurf is a proxy service for windows. Its primary use is for censorship evasion and some level of encryption for privacy. Just like Tor, it is funded by the United States Government but the difference between them is that Ultrasurf’s source code is not open.
2. Freegate is also a proxy service for windows that can be used to avoid censorship. It is also called Dynaweb and is funded by the United States Government.
3. Java Anon Proxy is so named because it is written in java and it is an open source proxy service. Java Anon Proxy allows law enforcement to issue surveillance orders for servers and this makes it unsecure as the feature can be exploited by attackers. For this reason, users should be careful when using it.
4. GTunnel is also aimed at going around censorship but unlike the rest, it doesn’t give you internet privacy. This service is no longer being developed.
Getting started with Tor is very easy and a straight to the point process, and so with the following steps, you can have better internet security and anonymity.
#1: Download Tor browser
The Tor browser is available for use with your windows, mac, Linux, and Android devices. Once you download and save it, you can easily install it on your device.
To save to windows, double click the .exe file and then select a folder to save to. The folder can also be a USB stick.
For mac OS X, double click on the .dmg file and then drag the content into a different folder which could be an application folder or a USB stick.
For Linux, use the command below to unpack the .tar.xz file
“tar –xvJf tor-browser-linux64-[…].tar.xz”
#2: Start the Tor browser
After downloading the Tor browser and you star it for the first time, you will be asked to choose a network. if your network doesn’t need further configuration as is mostly the case, click on continue, or else click on configure and provide the necessary information.
If after starting your browser it doesn’t connect, or you don’t want your internet service provider to know what you are up to, first connect to a VPN and then restart Tor.
#3: browse the web
Now you can use Tor and enjoy all its benefits and anonymity.
Using Tor provides you with great security and this security gets better when a VPN is used with the Tor browser. Usually, you connect to a VPN first and then Tor and that is because creating a tunnel through Tor and then trying to connect from there to your VPN is a more difficult task to set up. Most VPN services also do not support that type of set up because while it is difficult to set up it doesn’t increase your anonymity. Even though this set up makes it impossible for the exit node to see your traffic, it allows the VPN service provider to see your traffic.
If you are using a VPN that doesn’t have a record of your activity, then you can trust them with such connections but it defeats the whole idea of being anonymous.
First connecting to a VPN and then Tor is known as Tor over VPN or Onion over VPN. This type of connection provides you with all the privacy you can get while using the Tor network, and gives you additional protection that prevents any Tor node from discovering your IP address. This type of connection also takes away the possibility of being flagged by your internet service provider as they won’t know you are connected to Tor and all they will see is encrypted traffic going to the VPN server.
Using the Tor over VPN connection allows you to benefit from the Tor network even in areas where Tor is not allowed like in certain countries, school networks, and also corporate networks.
Tor over VPN keeps you heavily encrypted so that not even your VPN service will know what you are doing in the Tor network. It also protects you from attacks by a bug in the Tor browser as the VPN serves as another layer of security the bug would have to pass to get to you.
Tor as a tool on its own is incredible and currently unbeatable in providing you with great security and privacy online. If you want to stand a better chance against an attacker who knows what he is doing, then doing all your internet tasks over the Tor network is your best shot at staying anonymous and secure. Combining such security therefore with a VPN in a Tor over VPN connection gives you more layers of privacy and security so that your traffic stays encrypted and your location remains unknown. Not even your internet service provider can be able to identify you as a Tor user in such a connection and it is a good step towards great anonymity and privacy.
In the effort to ensure that the web is safe for your use and transfer of data, there are different approaches you can take and one of them is the use of Tor. Tor is by far one of the most secure platforms that exist today as it gives you a high level of internet anonymity and the result you get from it depends on how good you understand it. when used on its own for instance, you get a good level of security and anonymity as your data traffic is encrypted and your IP address is unknown, but going further to combine Tor with a VPN in a Tor over VPN connection takes that security to a higher level as not even your internet service provider can know that you are connected to Tor. Using Limevpn in such a connection is a great way to improve on the security that Tor already provides as they give you 256-bit encryption and a lot of IP locations to choose from.
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