What is Tor?
Tor is a network named after The Onion Router project that it’s based on. It makes your browsing a lot more private by bundling your data into layers of encryption (like an onion) and routing it through three nodes (volunteer-maintained systems that act like intermediaries for your internet traffic).
Any individual node only knows the previous and the next destination, so not even the entry node knows where you’re going online – and the exit node has no idea who sent the data in the first place.
How to use Tor
Previously, using Tor was a bit annoying and required specialized knowledge. Now, the Tor Browser project made it as easy as pie. Here’s how to use Tor:
- Download and install the Tor Browser. Windows, OS X, Linux, and Android are supported.
- The Browser will launch once you finish stalling.
- Click Connect in the Tor Browser configuration window. Configure is for people who are using a proxy.
- Wait for the browser to connect to the node network.
- You’re ready to browse the Tor network!
But if you want to use the Tor Browser for increased security, there are a few more things you need to know.
6 Tips on How to use Tor Browser safely
There is no single app that would secure you from every threat out there – and you need to be aware of the best security practices yourself. Here’s how you use the Tor Browser safely:
1. Set your security level
Tor Browser comes with three layers of security. The settings are accessed by clicking the shield button next to the address bar and choosing Advanced Security Settings.
Standard is no different from operating any other browser.
Safest cranks that up to 11, and only very basic websites work unimpeded. For example, Wikipedia users will not notice any differences; Buzzfeed is usable, Imgur isn’t.
2. Check the other security settings
By default, the Tor Browser uses permanent private browsing mode. This means that history and website cookies get deleted every time you close the Tor Browser. When you start it up, it’s like using a new browser. If you don’t like this sort of thing, you can loosen the rules a little.
3. Change your browsing habits
One of the reasons Surfshark developed Clean Web is that Google and other major search engines collect a lot of information about your browsing. This impacts both your privacy and search results.
Now, there’s no sense in using the Tor Browser if you’re just going to give away your data again. You should use search engines that don’t track you, like DuckDuckGo (it’s the default one on the Tor Browser) or Surfshark’s Clean Web service.
4. Try new circuits and identities
The collection of nodes the Tor Browser uses to connect you to your online destination is called “a circuit.” If the website is working slowly or you want a new IP, click the shadowed window next to the website address. Here, you can request a new circle – this will also reload the website.
A more powerful version of this is “new identity.” This will close all windows and tabs, and restart the Tor Browser itself. If you’re on private browsing, it will be like starting up a new browser with a fresh new IP.
5. Use a VPN
There are three reasons why you’d want to use a VPN together with Tor Browser:
- VPN hides Tor use, as some ISPs and governments are suspicious of it.
- VPN hides your IP in case the entry node is compromised.
- The Tor Project does not recommend using advertisement blocking extensions on the grounds of privacy (we’re starting to see a pattern), but Surfshark VPN blocks many of the ads at the source.
6. Make sure your security measures are up to date
If you’re going to use the Tor Browser to access Deep Web sites, you better make sure that you’re as protected as possible. This means always updating your device’s OS, having a working firewall, and a reliable antivirus system.
How to use the Tor Browser to access the deep web
“Deep web” is technically a term used to describe parts of the internet not indexed by search engines and thus not ordinarily reachable via them. The “dark web” is the stuff that isn’t accessible via regular internet – in Tor’s case, it’s the .onion websites that you wouldn’t reach without the Tor Browser.
Once you have the Tor Browser running, you can access a dark web site by simply entering the website address. The trouble is finding those addresses. After all, search engines don’t work deep or dark webs.
A word of advice, though: some of those websites are hard to find because they’re dealing with illegal activities. Always be on alert.
Is it illegal to use Tor?
No, it’s not illegal to use Tor or Tor Browser. However, doing illegal stuff over Tor is still, well, illegal.
As Tor is popular with people taking part in shady activities (as well as whistleblowers and journalists), the government may be interested in their users. There have already been cases in the past of, say, NSA looking into Tor users.
Can you be tracked on Tor?
It is possible to track people on Tor, but it’s not easy. The Tor Browser changes your circuit – the network nodes used to reroute your data – every ten minutes. However, the nodes are provided by volunteers. This means that government entities may control some nodes. By compromising the entry and the exit nodes, spy agencies can match the time you used Tor (known from the entry node) and the data you sent (known from the exit node).
However, it’s a lot easier to just snoop on your traffic to tell if you’re using Tor. Your ISP can’t see the data you’re transmitting – it’s encrypted – but it can see that it’s Tor data. That’s why it’s useful to use a VPN with Tor.
Can I speed up Tor?
Using Tor Browser will naturally be slower than regular browsing as your information is routed via three nodes in different countries. And as we know, the fewer intermediaries between you and your website/service, the faster the connection is.
So can you speed it up? Like we said before, the easiest and safest way to do it is to get a new circuit – maybe it will connect you to better nodes. Tor is used by more than 2,000,000 daily users (accurate numbers are hard to gauge) with only about 6,500 servers available, so traffic congestion is possible.
At the end of the day, there’s little to be done to make Tor use much faster – such is the price of privacy.
Can I use Tor for P2P/Streaming?
Technically, you can use Tor Browser for P2P or streaming. Practically, it’s a terrible idea, and even the Tor Project FAQ says that. As we said, the network is slow, and using it for high-intensity activities like P2P downloads and streaming just slows it down even more.
Where do I go on Tor?
Navigating the Tor network isn’t easy as search engines do not index .onion websites. Therefore, you need to use sites like the Hidden Wiki to find out the specific web addresses.
Incidentally, we have an article on the best .onion websites for amateur Tor users.
Can I use Tor over VPN?
Yes, you can use Tor over VPN. Do you need a VPN for Tor? Yes.
Using a VPN with the Tor Browser adds another layer of security and privacy:
- You are keeping your IP address secret from the entry node. If it’s compromised, whoever has done this will only see the address of the VPN server.
- You are hiding your Tor use. VPN encryption hides what you’re doing online – including using Tor Browser.
As we said, you’re using Tor Browser because you want to be private online – and using a VPN compensates for some of Tor’s weaknesses.
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