is tor safe?

“Is Tor Safe?” And All Other Such Tor-related Questions Answered In This Guide

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Digital Security“Is Tor Safe?” And All Other Such Tor-related Questions Answered In This Guide

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The Internet is a vast place.” But few of us know really how vast and immense it really is. Imagine this, all the websites you can think of browsing via your favourite internet browsers, all the search results on Google and other search engines like Bing, are all the proverbial “tip” of the iceberg. Most users might consider these websites enough to satisfy their needs off the Internet, but the Internet’s actual extent is profoundly larger than most users realize. Naturally, you might now be wondering if there’s a way for you to explore this vast undiscovered part of the Internet. The answer is yes. However, you’ll need a special tool to do so, i.e., The Onion Router (Tor) browser. Read on below to learn more about everything you need to know about the Tor browser, such as is Tor safe? Is it free? Is it legal, and most importantly, how to get started with using it? You’ll find the answers to all these questions plus a lot more below.

Here’s How To Start Using Tor

Despite being one of the most secure tools on the Internet, it’s surprisingly easy to download and then use Tor. You don’t need any specific technical expertise, no prior experience in cybersecurity, not even any special equipment. In fact, it’s not any different than downloading Chrome, Safari, or Firefox. It’s the same principle. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to download, install, and start using Tor.

Head over to Tor’s official website.

From here, download the service for the device you plan on using it on.

Download TOR browser

Once you’ve downloaded it, you’ll see a folder titled “Tor Browser” at your download destination.

TOR browser at download destination

Open this folder, and click on “Start Tor Browser.”

Start-TOR-browser

At this point, you’ll see a new window with the option to “Connect” or “Configure.”

Connect or Configure TOR browser

Click on “Connect,” and you’ll then have a browser window open.

click-on-connect

By default, you’ll be redirected to the search engine “DuckDuckGo.” Think of this website as the Google of the Deep web.

 At this point, you can now navigate to several other search engines you want. Find the links to some below:

In case you want to access some of the more popular websites from regions where they’re banned, find their onion URLs below:

Reasons To Start Using Tor

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are multiple reasons why you might want to start using Tor. While most users opt for Tor because of the absolute privacy it offers, there are many more compelling reasons to do so as well. Some of these include:

Tor Is Run By Volunteers: It may come as a surprise to many, but Tor is a completely community-run venture. A few volunteers play a pivotal role in ensuring the system remains up and running. However, all of these volunteers are experts in their respective domains, such as relays, documentation translators, community advocacy, and so much more.

Tor Is a Distributed Network: In simple terms, a distributed network is the network system that allows software and its data to be spread across more than one computer to communicate complex messages through their nodes. The distributed network on Tor is managed separately by each node, making Tor user tracking extremely difficult, if not impossible. This is mainly down to the fact that Tor’s operations do not rely on any single node. For instance, if one node or server went down, the system would seamlessly transition to another available node.

Access Everything: Ask any journalist from one of the troubled regions of the world, and they’ll tell you just how vital Tor is to their profession. Governments around the world ban sites and restrict access to the entire Internet in some extreme cases. In such cases, Tor is the only viable option people have in terms of accessing the Internet, reading banned publications, accessing banned sites, and evading any government restrictions.

Reasons To Avoid Tor

Tor is an extraordinary tool, and you’ll be a lot safer with it than you’d be without it. However, there are some downsides to using the Tor browser that you should know beforehand. While most of these are operational in nature, it helps to know what you’re getting yourself into when you start using Tor.

Several countries around the world have banned and outlawed the Tor browser. Thanks to mirror links, you can still download Tor in these countries but beware, you’ll be engaging in illegal activity that usually carries a hefty fine or even a jail sentence.

Secondly, even if your country hasn’t outright banned Tor, several web services block Tor users. While it’s completely rare, you might find yourself banned by your Internet service provider for using Tor as well.

Lastly, the most important thing to consider is the loss of speed. If you’re planning on using Tor to remain both anonymous and enjoying a smooth web browsing experience, you’re in for a disappointment. Tor browser is notoriously slow for various reasons depending on a lot of different factors. While it does guarantee you anonymity online, one thing it does not guarantee is a fast-browsing experience. You can learn more about why this in the FAQs section below.

Is Using Tor Legal?

In short, yes. There’s nothing illegal about using Tor, and it remains entirely legal for use in most countries of the world. Why most? Because some countries do actually place restrictions on the use of the browse. For instance, China has specifically curtailed the use of Tor within the mainland. Thanks to the Great Firewall, Tor traffic is virtually non-existent within the country and cannot be accessed from outside the country. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have also placed similar restrictions on the use of Tor. However, none of these countries have any dedicated laws against using Tor, so the question of legality remains a grey one.  

Is Tor Immune To Vulnerabilities? Not Quite

Something you should know before you start using Tor includes the fact that despite being unarguably one of the safest ways to surf the web, it is still not immune to vulnerabilities. Now, I should probably add that these problems continue to exist, but these aren’t problems that do not have easy solutions. Hence, here are some of the most common vulnerabilities that continue to exist in Tor you need to be aware of:

Final Tor Exit Node Can Be Exposed:

An exit node is the last node that handles Tor data before it reaches its final destination in laymen’s terms. The data at this point is wholly decrypted and, as you can probably guess, virtually laid bare. Unless your traffic is via an HTTPS connection, some sensitive information and data can be exposed to the operator running the node.

The Path To The Exit Node Isn’t Safe Either:

Tor was designed to provide absolute anonymity to all its users. It relies heavily on the assumption that the Tor volunteers will not snoop into the traffic running through their servers. However, past investigations have shown that these volunteers can efficiently perform man-in-the-middle attacks.

As a study at the Northeastern University by Guevara Noubir indicated, Tor hackers are equipped with highly sophisticated techniques that allow them to infiltrate into user traffic with ease. Some of these techniques include automated probing SQL injection into databases.

Confirmation Attacks Can Compromise Tor:

Resourceful government agencies like the NSA can overcome the security barriers Tor browser provides. The most obvious example is the use of Tor attacks that draw a correlation between user transmissions between both the entry and exit nodes. These can easily indicate use patterns if the hackers have any other corresponding data.

Can VPN Make Your Tor Browsing Sessions Better?

Long story short, yes. A VPN can lend your Tor browsing sessions an additional layer of privacy and provide you with some much-needed security while using it.

The best way to benefit from a VPN while using the Tor browser is to connect to a VPN before using Tor. This is because it ensures your internet provider won’t know about your access to Tor. It should go without saying, but ideally, you’ll want a VPN that keeps no user logs. PureVPN is perhaps the best option in this case as it has gotten itself audited via an independent firm and received the critical “no-logs” certification.

Using a VPN like PureVPN would enable you to select login from any other server outside your country. This will provide your Tor browsing session with the kind of anonymity needed to evade some of the geo-restrictions that might be in place in your country.

People Also Ask:

Here are some other commonly searched for problems by users related to Tor browser:

Is Tor free?

Yes, Tor is entirely free to use regardless of which OS or device you might be on. Furthermore, it’s completely legal to distribute it without any specific permission as long as you adhere to Tor’s licensing requirements.

Can I use Tor on my smartphone or tablet?

Fairly easily. Just head over to the Tor browser’s official website, and you can download the browser for your Android devices such as smartphones and tablets. However, there’s no dedicated client for iOS. Hence, you’ll need to use Tor via the Onion browser app for iOS. It may not be as convenient as the Android version, but it isn’t too difficult to use.

Why is Tor so slow?

Once you do get on Tor, one of the things you might notice at the start is just how slow Tor can be. This is because the traffic via the browser is pinged via several servers across the world. You also have to factor in the fact that the network is much smaller proportionate to the people who use it. This has been a hot topic within Tor’s developers’ team and should be resolved soon.

What is the deep web vs. the dark web?

This is probably the most common misconception that people have. While both the deep web and dark web share similarities, they are vastly different in the grand scheme of things. For starters, the deep web usually refers to all the websites that you can’t access via your regular web browser. On the other hand, the dark web are sites you can only access via a Tor browser, known as “onion sites.” In other words, dark websites are a part of the deep web. Most of the deep websites usually include business intranets, online banking platforms, and databases in addition to the dark web. These dark websites are typically meant for specific activities that blur the line between legal and illegal as they allow access to sites banned in most countries, such as news publications, whistleblowing sites, as well as social media sites such as Facebook.

What are the best Tor alternatives?

Several other alternatives provide a similar service like that of Tor. This includes Freenet and Invisible Internet Project (I2P). Without getting into too many details, both of these operate using the same principles as Tor. This ensures similar levels of anonymity as you would get with Tor. However, you won’t have access to Onion sites, so you might find your actions fairly limited.

Ather Owais Ather Owais is a tech and cybersecurity enthusiast. He is a strong advocate for online privacy and security, following technological trends and their impact on today's digital era.

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