How To Use Tor Browser: Everything You Must Know

Since its inception, the Tor browser has divided opinion with some questioning its validity, authenticity, and safety of use. This shows a lack of understanding or even a wrongly advised misconception of this online commodity. This guide will help anyone new to Tor Browser, to improve their depth of knowledge on the subject. This allows them to form their own educated opinion on the service that has helped millions all over the world.

If you are unsure about Tor, an Onion domain or any other aspects of this area of technology then read on to discover more as we bid to lay out in front of you, all the fundamentals and everything you must know about how to use Tor Browser.

What Is An Onion Domain And Tor Browser?

Tor is essentially a browser for users to communicate via anonymous means during their online activity using the unique software. The privacy of communication allows this top-level internet domain to be used by anonymous websites. For example, on the Dark Web by authorities tracking individuals or by those wishing to remain hidden. It is a free initiative and therefore has become both a popular and budget-friendly entity.

Tor’s ability to navigate through global networks is a unique process. Sending internet traffic to previously encrypted destinations is a revolutionary piece of technology that can be used for multiple cyber functionalities. The specialist system employed by Tor ensures privacy previously unattainable to many in the search for anonymous activity.

Online activity is controlled and governed by the network relays within the online infrastructure, keeping you hidden at all times. 

Composed of multiple client servers and software, Tor hides the usually identifiable information and personal detail like a location.

By using Tor’s network, instant messaging, web visits, and all online transactions become extremely challenging to track and lose traceability. This further protects your internet activity, curbs internet censorship, and emphasizes the primary Tor objectives. These are primarily; maintaining fundamental civil rights online and preserving personal communication freedom.

The Current And Initial Purpose Of Use For Tor Browser

Privacy and anonymity for its users have always been a commitment that Tor has adhered to. Even though its current-day use has evolved via several experimental prototypes from developers it’s worth noting the original concept. The initial intentions of the browser when formed were the insulation of users from the threat of an attack. 

Modern Tor users range from general internet browsers, activists, journalists, the military, and both officers and agencies of law enforcement.

Those wishing to deanonymize these users face significant obstructions and their attacks are countered by the advanced Tor software. Capabilities such as these led to the primary function of Tor originally being the safeguarding of government communications.

Development was initiated by the U.S Navy in the search for a secure platform to browse the internet anonymously.

How Does Tor Operate?

Tor works via a combination of complex algorithms and sophisticated software providing the average internet user high-level security. This intense level of privacy is possible because of extensive research by developers. They discovered ‘relay early cells’ could be utilized as a cyber defense mechanism that confirms internet traffic attacks. 

The strategies involved which enable Tor to provide web anonymity to its users are trafficked through its secure network. Here, the cyber traffic is routed through several relays which are chosen randomly before leaving the Tor network.

A Tor relay is commonly known as or also referred to in some sections as a node or a router. Routers or nodes are the receptors in which Tor gathers the traffic before designating and passing them onto other nodes.

The specific design is so intricate that developers have made it impossible for individual detection of a computer request for traffic. This highlights the exclusive privacy and detection prevention technology brought to its users by the Tor browser. 

Why Choose Tor?

Rather than focus on some of the perceived negatives that sometimes accompany a Tor conversation. Slow internet speed, web service restrictions, government blocks, and comparable efficiency to Opera or Chrome have been mentioned previously.

Eliminating negative stigma surrounding any product can more often than not allow it to be seen independently. It will naturally then benefit more than it will hinder. Therefore we want to celebrate and promote the many advantages and how a user can benefit from using this unique browser. These include;

  • Tor is compatible with Mac devices, Windows applications, and Android devices
  • Tor provides unprecedented access to geo-restricted websites
  • Tor resists government interference and solidifies your cyber freedom
  • Tor is completely free to use

How Was Tor Funded And Is It Financially Sustainable?

As with all budgets, the exact figures are subject to change and figures will naturally alter each year. The numbers discussed are rough estimates on previous submissions but they will not be far off the current financial structure. Tor has always maintained a strong approach to any accusations of collaboration with the NSA (National Security Agency).  They strenuously deny any link despite their heavy government funding.

So, we know that the federal government of the United States makes a significant contribution. (Believed to be up to 80% of the $2million budget afforded to Tor on an annual basis). The makeup of this is unclear but we do know that proportions of this 80% come from areas of the government.  Examples are the National Science Foundation, the U.S. State Department, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

With such powerful and wealthy backing from the powers that be it is hard to imagine that it would collapse. The potential for a fully-funded multi-year deal is there which will benefit all parties. Government power funding more than a large majority of the annual budget is a good sign. It indicates they plan to continue to invest in and grow this initiative for years to come. 

So what of the remaining 20%? Well, this comes from a variety of sources. These are comprised of thousands of individual sponsors, several NGOs, and a substantial lump sum from the Swedish Government. 

The significance of this is that the trust and support of the Tor browser are widespread. It further proves that as a global platform. Tor is a reliable and safe browser that millions of people use and depend on for their daily communications.

This is solidified by the affirmative pledge, mentioned above, regarding NSA involvement that is provided by Tor to its users. It provides the assurance that user identity is not revealed to even the most powerful and respected agencies. Despite them having financial input in the product, this is extremely gratifying and reassuring.

Tor’s Mission Statement

According to its website, Tor’s mission statement is as follows:

“If you’re wondering how to use Tor Browser, you’ll be happy to know that it’s relatively simple. All you have to do is download and install the current version for your operating system, and then use it like any other web browser.

This is followed by a definitive statement and clear instruction to their users; 

“Do not download Tor Browser from any source other than the official Tor website”.

Tor Browser Compatibility

Tor Browser is currently available for Windows, OS X, Linux, and Android right now with more platforms still in development. At present Tor Browser doesn’t have a version for iOS, but there is a way around it as a temporary gap-filler if you deem it necessary. To developers have encouraged iOS users to work in a slightly different way  byu using an Onion Browser. 

To operate Tor Browser, just simply wait for the software to download before saving it and going into set-up mode on your device. From here, it is the same as installing any other software, so as long as this is not your first download and installation, Tor shouldn’t present any problems for you. All that is left to do is open the browser and wait for it to connect to the network once the download is complete. 

Why Tor Offers More Than A Standard VPN Or Any Kind Of Proxy

Tor is not as limited as either a proxy or VPN is. Tor offers far superior service in terms of privacy and anonymity all around than its counterparts in secret cyber activity. Tor stands out from its competitors because its specific software acts as a separate browser that is undetectable. Users can surf the web and participate in activities without the suspicion of being preyed upon or have details gathered.

To truly value what Tor brings to the table, it must be put into context. Understanding what both VPN (Virtual Private Network) and the various proxies available actually offer an internet user will help. To highlight the important differences between the products, we have put together some brief summaries of each below; 

What Are The Disadvantages Of Tor Browser?

Excluding the obvious security issues, the clear disadvantage of Tor is that it’s extremely slow. That’s unfortunately one of the side effects of anonymity which is pretty much unavoidable due to the distances your data travels to protect itself through global servers. This makes Tor unsuitable for streaming movies, sports, or tv shows for example and you could say the same for downloads too.

Torrenting is largely discouraged as well because of the high risk of exposing your IP and ruining your privacy, nothing to do with the lack of speed involved. For reliable torrenting or streaming in strict privacy, a VPN is a stronger option than Tor.

To avoid disappointment or setting unrealistic expectations, you would do well to remember that Tor Browser is exactly what it says it is, simply a browser. You wouldn’t expect a normal browser to encrypt activity, so don’t assume that Tor will either. Treat it as its intended purpose and if you have concerns remaining then maybe combining it with a reliable VPN is the best option for you. 

Tor can bring uncomfortable attention and remember that your ISP will be able to see you are logged onto Tor even if they cannot view what you are doing on there. Occurrences such as these can sometimes be enough to raise suspicion, and could even turn you into a target for government surveillance. With that in mind, if you’re using other apps you won’t have any extra protection. 

Is Tor Browser A VPN?

This is a common misconception as the two are often intertwined and mix in the same circles but we can definitively say that the answer is a firm no, Tor Browser is not a VPN. 

Firstly, the main objective of Tor is to maintain anonymity, while the leading aim of a VPN is to protect privacy. This is the primary difference and despite the similarity in sound, there is stark differences between these two roles.

Those two things might sound similar, but they’re not the same. Tor and VPNs both meet their requirements and hit their targets in completely unique ways using contrasting methods to accomplish their respective tasks even though both tools have overlapping intricacies. 

If you’re using a VPN, all of your data is safe with end-to-end encryption. It’s then ushered through a secure channel to a remote server, which links you to the website you’re attempting to visit. 

When using a VPN in tandem with Tor, this actually means that nobody (even your ISP) can see that you’re on the Tor network. This is vital to the entire operation, particularly – if you live with strict online censorship in your country. Don’t let the fact that Tor itself is legal to make you think you cannot get into a spot of bother. You can still get flagged for suspicious activity if someone discovers that you’re using it.

Why Tor Differs To VPN

Tor serves as a browser with undetectable software for anonymous activity whereas VPN is more of a private network. VPN will allow you to route internet traffic through the VPN network in a secure fashion. 

It can also make you appear in a different location which can be handy at times. Cybercriminals will struggle to access your information as your traffic is encrypted both in and out of the VPN server. The confidential details of the traffic can still be hacked on occasion.

Why Tor Differs To A Proxy

Tor’s privacy is a lot more secure than anything a proxy can offer. This is ensured because Tor is a hidden feature whereas proxies just direct the traffic from your computer through another. Proxies cannot provide encryption like the Tor browser and there is also the risk of certain applications rejecting proxy use. This has occurred on previous occasions with apps like email which can have a detrimental effect on your cyber activity.

Is Tor Safe?

The Tor browser does not come without its imperfections and can be viewed as vulnerable in certain aspects. This is simply down to the fact that on its own, it is not as secure as a VPN. 

The easy and efficient solution for this is to combine the two and utilize Tor with VPN for ultimate freedom. This level of privacy and anonymity cannot be achieved with any other fusion of servers and apps. 

For the average internet user, Tor has many benefits which can be operated safely and efficiently with useful applications. It is widely accepted that browsers commonly used amongst the masses aren’t as reliable. Browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft Edge are not as safe to use as Tor.

Is Tor Legal?

The simple answer is yes. Tor Browser can be exploited for illicit purposes by cybercriminals like most functions. However, it is a legal format because it provides a legitimate service for many authentic internet users that are law-abiding. However, as with most cyber entities, there are exceptions of course. 

Specific countries that govern with strict political regimes and enforce tough sanctions on internet practices are in opposition. Countries with particular restrictions on free speech may oppose Tor.

China for example has banned the use of the Tor Browser. Their legislation and leaders have been very open with their discouragement of Tor use. China disapproves of all aspects of the dark web. It is worth checking the laws in the state or country where you reside.

How To Use Tor Browser To Access The Dark Web

Once you’ve identified and verified the URLs of the sites you want to visit, using Tor Browser to access the dark web is simple. Consider it like any other browser to a certain extent. Just remember to keep your wits about you and never voluntarily provide personal details or important information that could jeopardize your privacy in the wrong hands.

Research is key and the way you operate on the hidden part of the internet where you can access information anonymously is crucial when not wanting to be flagged.

The New York Times and the CIA now have “onion” versions of their sites that you can access through Tor. Tor allows you to browse the dark web, including sites created specifically for it such as these but does not abuse the privilege or get too relaxed about your browsing, always keep your guard up or it could cost you. 

You will need to avoid scams and show wherewithal online as Onion sites are not typically indexed by search engines, if at all. You will need to find directories online and ensure you double-check each individual URL before trusting it and making your visit. The best way to protect yourself from these dangers is by using Tor with a VPN.

Using Tor As A Safe And Secure Browser

Tor is extremely user-friendly and very straightforward to use. The process is similar to the usual browser method whereby you have to simply download and install before running it. From a purely functional aspect, Tor Browser does not differ from Safari, Chrome, or Firefox for example.

To create the ultimate secure device, a user should take the option of running both Tor and a VPN simultaneously. Try coupling the high-level security of a VPN with the effectiveness of Tor’s location and privacy settings. This is, without doubt, the most efficient way of operating online for both average and experienced internet users.

As a bonus of using the Tor browser, users gain access to .onion sites that are exclusive to the Tor network. Many top sites offer an incognito version that only runs on the dark web. Tor gives the user exclusive access to be able to read the news. For example, in incognito mode on a special .onion version of the New York Times.

Using Tor Browser With A VPN

A VPN can mask a number of the vulnerabilities and security faults in the Tor system and this remains the stand-out reason it should be considered a priority, if nothing else, for the peace of mind. They will work well on their own but when together, both Tor Browser and VPNs combine to create an anonymous force and maintain consistent privacy online.

Using a VPN at the same time as Tor is the ultimate way of blocking visible IP addresses to exit and entry nodes for example. It provides the best opportunity to keep your activity secret from whichever ISP you use too. 

The Best VPN For Tor

When choosing to use a VPN paired with Tor Browser, it’s imperative to select the correct one. Not all VPN is composed with this intention in mind, but a few have recently been specifically designed to be compatible and efficient with Tor combinations in mind.

Choosing trustworthy and in-depth security features, pacey connection speeds, and vast networks of servers that let you browse with freedom from all over the globe can be tricky.

ExpressVPN allows just this and is a fantastic service to combine with Tor. The glaring advantage of this provision is that it has its own.onion site in the Tor network. This enables you to perform any safe download, even in non-VPN tolerant countries. The other benefit of ExpressVPN’s.onion site is that it makes it impossible for anyone to see your location and eliminates the risk of malicious exit nodes.

You are kept anonymous throughout the Tor network via ExpressVPN’s 256-bit encryption, including both the entry and exit nodes. In addition to this, the TrustedServer technology keeps each individual server’s software updated at all times. None of your information will ever be accessible to others because each server deletes all stored data every time it reboots.

The best part is that you can connect up to 5 devices at once with a sole subscription. This is accompanied by 24/7 live chat support who are on hand should anything go wrong or fault at any time. It is substantially faster than others and produces great results when choosing a server that surpasses 3,000 options. 

There are multiple protocols in terms of security choices and ExpressVPN never tracks any of your activity whilst ensuring totally anonymous browsing activity throughout the entirety of the Tor network. You can even try out ExpressVPN risk-free as it’s backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee, leaving you in a win-win situation and with no need to gamble!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is The Setup Complicated For Tor?

The installation process is identical to any other software, relatively straightforward to follow, and is generally considered extremely user-friendly. At present, availability stretches to Windows, OS X, Linux, and Android with more soon to come. All you have to do is go to the Tor project’s homepage to install Tor, then simply download the correct version for your operating system.

Are There Any Tor Alternatives Out There?

If you seek to access the dark web securely and confidently, the pairing of Tor and a VPN is arguably the optimum way to do so but there are some competitors out there of note. Freenet and the Invisible Internet Project (I2P) both operate on similar principles in order to secure anonymity. These are the most viable alternative to Tor Browser but bear in mind, they cannot be used to access.onion sites.

How Traceable Is My Tor Activity?

As always, to guard against the complications mentioned, use a VPN in correlation with Tor. Having said that, the majority of the time, Tor’s intricate system of random relays renders it pretty much impossible for activity tracing and tracking.

Inevitably, there are certain vulnerable spots that may make you weaker by revealing your IP address or enabling other people to log that you’re active on the Tor network. 

Is My Smartphone Or Tablet Compatible With Tor Browser?

For those with an iOS device, you’ll need to use the Onion Browser app instead, which works on a different system. It’s not identical but is recommended by Tor’s developers. You can download Tor Browser for Android mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Why Does Tor Appear To Be So Slow?

Tor’s developers are working to address these issues and increase speed for users. When you use Tor, your traffic is sent through global servers and therefore creates a delay. The fact that the network alone is tiny compared to the vast amount of people who use it is just another reason for the slow pace.

Should I Use Tor With A VPN?

If you seek to optimize your anonymity, privacy, and security, you should always use a VPN with Tor for the accompanying extra layers of protection. Not only does this prevent anyone from seeing that you’re using Tor but can reduce the risk of malicious exit nodes or other third parties tracking your location.

Is It Dangerous To Use Tor Without A VPN?

Any dangers can easily be avoided with the addition of a VPN, which covers Tor’s main security faults. Something like ExpressVPN offers solid security features and a strict no-logs policy ideal for this purpose.

Tor itself is extremely safe and provides an elite level of anonymity. Despite this, it is not error-proof and can leave you exposed to a range of security threats if you’re not careful. In some cases, it may be an option for people to identify your IP address, and even if they can’t see what you’re doing on Tor,  they’ll identify that you’re using it.

Can Tor Browser Be Considered 100% Safe?

Although Tor does tonnes to preserve your anonymity, it’s not guaranteed to be 100% secure. There are some select faults in the system that contain the potential to expose your IP address or other personal details to third parties, and the fact that you’re using Tor won’t be hidden.

To protect against these security dilemmas by using Tor in tandem with a VPN. ExpressVPN is a solid recommendation as it works seamlessly with Tor and provides fantastic speed of connection.

Do We Have To Pay For Tor Browser?

Yes, Tor is partially funded by the US government, and its servers are operated exclusively by a volunteer base. Tor Browser is completely free to download and use. As long as you follow the Tor Project’s license, it’s also free to distribute without any specific permission.

I Have Never Heard Of The Deep Web, What Is It?

Anything that requires authentication for access is basically going to be part of the deep web. The deep web refers to all the websites that a search engine cannot reach. It will feature normal everyday sites such as corporate intranets, company databases, online banking platforms, and much more including sites on the dark web.

I Have Heard Of The Dark Web, What Is It?

The dark web is a unique part of the deep web that can’t be found on Google or accessed through a regular browser. Therefore, to see it, you have to use Tor. This includes websites that don’t have normal URLs, often referred to as “onion sites.” Many corporations and businesses have their own onion sites to secure anonymity and guarantee company censorship. 

Final Thoughts

Essentially, for anyone who is looking to browse the web anonymously, Tor is a feasible solution. It has been used for all the wrong reasons but still, it is widely recognized for what it offers. Security and anonymity are two vital things for many people around the world. This is where Tor really stands out on its own, even surpasses its closest competitors with its overall excellence and service. 

Despite its detractors, Tor Browser is a strong and efficient tool for maintaining your safety and privacy online. Fusing the anonymity that Tor provides with the security assured by a VPN gives you the ultimate combination in online security. Hopefully, this informative guide has left you as the reader in a better place to make an educated decision that suits your individual needs and preferences. 

Dale Williams
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