What is Tor browser? How to surf anonymously with Tor

Key Takeaways

  • Tor browser is a system of network encryption that protects your privacy and anonymity online.
  • It is the most user-friendly way to access the “dark web” and allows encrypted access to any normal website.
  • Tor significantly boosts online privacy and is safe to use, but accessing “dark web” sites bears more risks.


Many people don’t think too deeply about their web browser, but they probably should. We’d bet that Chrome or Safari or Microsoft Edge is the most-used program on your desktop or laptop. Whether it’s checking email, watching YouTube videos, peeking at your social networks or the million other things we use the web for, the browser is the gateway to it all. But does your browser do anything to protect you?

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Tor

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What is Tor browser?

Standing for The Onion Protocol, Tor is a system of network encryption designed to protect your privacy and help you stay anonymous online.

Connecting to a series of routers called “onion nodes” in between your computer and your destination site, each node only contains a small amount of the data of your request. These nodes aren’t available to ordinary browsers. You need a special piece of software to access them: the Tor browser. It allows for encrypted access to any normal website, giving you the ability to surf anonymously.

Tor is also regarded as the most user-friendly way to log on to the “dark web,” a network of websites that are not visible through standard browsers like Chrome or Safari. These sites often contain material that is not allowed on the “clearweb” of public sites.

In summary, if you value privacy and security, there is no better browser on the market than Tor.

Is Tor browser free to install and use?

Yes, it is free, decentralized and open-source software.

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Download Tor Browser

Download Tor Browser

How do you install Tor?

Desktop

There is only one official download site for the Tor browser, and that is torproject.org. Builds of the browser are available for Windows, MacOS, Android and Linux systems. Download and installation are completely free.

Do not install the browser from any other location, as it may be infected with spyware or other nefarious programs.

Mobile

For Android users, the official Tor Browser app is available, which provides similar privacy and anonymity features as its desktop counterpart.

Tor

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How does Tor browser work?

  • Installation and launch: Install and open Tor Browser, then connect to the Onion Network.
  • Browsing: Regular websites work similarly to other browsers, though some may not function properly due to Tor’s privacy features. The speed might be slower for large downloads.
  • Accessing .onion domains: Use Tor to access special .onion domains, which are not indexed by standard search engines.
  • Privacy measures: When you close Tor Browser, it deletes all cookies and browsing history for enhanced privacy.

After you install the browser and launch it, you will see a button that says “Connect to the Onion Network.” Clicking it will open your Internet routing to the system of onion nodes. This process can sometimes take a few seconds, so wait until it is done. You can also enable automatic connection to the Onion network upon opening Tor Browser, which I recommend you do.

Once connected, it works just like any other web browser. The vast majority of your regular sites will work just the same. A few sites that rely on user tracking may not work as well. Because Tor traffic is routed through multiple servers, it is often slightly slower than normal web traffic. You probably won’t notice most of the time, but for large file downloads it can be somewhat annoying.

In addition to standard websites, there are also servers that are only accessible through the Tor browser. Those servers have .onion domain names. Standard search engines do not list these domains in their results, so you need to know them in advance to connect to them. Many major companies have reserved .onion domains and host websites there, and there is a list of onion services on Wikipedia.

When you close Tor, all cookies as well as your browsing history are deleted to leave no record of your activity on your local device.

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Is Tor browser safe?

The software side of Tor Browser is certified to be safe by the Tor Project, trusted for its strong commitment to online anonymity and privacy. It develops open-source software that encrypts and routes internet traffic through a global volunteer network to protect users against surveillance and censorship. Any standard or “clearweb” sites will be just as safe with Tor as they are with other browsers, if not more so.

Tor significantly boosts online privacy by encrypting and rerouting internet traffic, but its entry and exit points could be weak spots. Despite this, tracing a specific user’s activity on the Tor network is highly difficult and rarely achievable. It’s important to note that even though your traffic is anonymized and routed, authorities can still subpoena servers and trace it. Illegal activity is not guaranteed to be safe on Tor.

Dark web

Accessing “dark web” sites through the onion network bears more risks. Because these sites are unregulated by major internet services and domain providers, they can host a number of potential hazards, including malware and illegal material. Even though your browsing on Tor is anonymized, click very carefully on dark websites and make sure not to download any files unless you are absolutely sure of what they contain.

Using a browser like Tor is not for everyone. Many if not most computer users have accepted the Faustian bargain that cost them their privacy in exchange for a world of entertainment and information. But if you want to claw back some of your data from the brokers and miners, downloading and using Tor is a free and easy way to do it.

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Tor Browser Connecting

Tor Browser Connecting

Should you try Tor browser?

It shouldn’t surprise you that your web activity is being monitored and recorded by a vast array of parties from your ISP on down.

Cookies collect demographic information, behavior, interests and more and create a digital profile that’s bought and sold constantly. If you want to explore the internet without leaving a footprint behind, Tor is the browser for you. Moving your uploads and downloads through onion nodes makes them incredibly difficult to monitor.

For that reason, Tor is often used by journalists and whistleblowers who require the deepest level of protection. Edward Snowden famously used the Tor network to leak details of the US government’s mass civilian surveillance program to the press.

Bypassing content

Tor is also useful for bypassing content that is otherwise restricted to you. Many streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ have geo-blocking on their apps and websites, making it so you can only watch certain shows and movies in certain countries. Much like using a proxy server, Tor lets you route your traffic in a way that fools these sites into thinking you’re anywhere in the world. If the subscription services are paid, however, you’ll still need to purchase an account in that region.

Yes, some people do use Tor for more nefarious purposes, such as buying or selling illegal items like drugs or weaponry, or hosting illegal files. But you’re under no obligation to engage in those activities just because you use the browser. Data privacy is one of the major civil rights issues of the 21st century, and it’s just smart to keep a lock on how much people and corporations know about you.

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Disclaimer : The content in this article is for educational and informational purposes only.