When it comes to protecting your privacy online, you’ll likely have heard about Tor and VPNs.
But while these have some similar features, they work quite differently.
Part of the reason why you might lean towards the Tor browser instead of installing a VPN is that it’s free, but there are some important things you need to know about it.
Do both Tor and VPNs hide your IP address? Your IP address, which is a unique address that identifies your device on the web, will be effectively hidden by both Tor and VPNs.
With that in mind, let’s explore the Tor vs VPN debate so that you can see which one will better protect you online. We’ll start by defining them both and looking at how they work.
Table of Contents
What Is Tor?
Tor stands for The Onion Router, and it was first developed in conjunction with the U.S. Navy, with its purpose being to allow people to be anonymous when browsing the internet.
Tor is now a non-profit organization that can be used by anyone. It hides your identity online by encrypting your web traffic. It also moves it across various
Tor relays inside the network so that you can’t be monitored or tracked online.
The more Tor users that use its servers, the more hidden your web traffic will be. This is because Tor has many layers of privacy (like the layers in an onion, actually).
These protective layers are produced by end relays, bridges, and middle relays.
What are end relays, middle relays, and bridges?
- End relays are the final relays in the privacy chain, and make up the IP address your connection will seem to originate from.
- Middle relays are routers that deal with traffic.
- Bridges are routers that are protected by IP blockers, making it possible for encryption to occur.
The great thing about relays is that each one only knows the IP address of the router that occurred before it, therefore hiding your original IP address.
Interestingly, Tor software basically relies on a community that uses the relays.
This is because the more relays that are present and running, the faster the browser will be and this will also contribute to increasing its security.
How To Get Started With Tor
To start using Tor, all you need to do is download the Tor browser and launch it on your device so that everything you search for via the browser will move through the Tor network.
You don’t have to change any settings on your device in order to start using Tor.
What Are The Advantages Of Using Tor?
- If you want to be more anonymous online, Tor can be the answer you need. It can help you bypass censorship restrictions, hide your IP address, and prevent your online activities from being tracked back to you.
- Tor is also user-friendly. It’s very easy for anyone to use, and if you have experience with using browsers then you’ll find that Tor is pretty much the same when it comes to how it works.
- Tor is free. You won’t be charged a download fee and you won’t have to pay anything to use Tor. If you’re an advanced user, you will have the chance to download the open-source project and change the coding.
- Tor has anti-spy protection in place and hides your browsing history. Cookies will be reset automatically when you stop using Tor.
What Are The Drawbacks Of Using Tor?
However, there are some disadvantages that you need to know about before using Tor. These include the following:
- While the Tor browser will block plugins, such as Quicktime and Flash, these can be manipulated into giving your IP address. You shouldn’t install addons or plugins into the Tor browser. The danger is that these could bypass Tor and make you less private on the internet.
- You have to be careful when downloading documents from external applications. The Tor browser will warn you instead of allowing these to be downloaded automatically. It’s important to heed this warning because these files can contain internet resources that will get downloaded outside of Tor by the app that opens them, putting your IP address on display.
Besides the above points, there are also other potential drawbacks of using Tor. These include the following:
- You can expect slower speeds when using Tor. This is as a result of all the relays through which your web traffic needs to move, and they can cause slower content, especially when it comes to loading videos.
- Some websites block Tor. These websites will give you error messages or they might allow you to gain access to them but you’ll need to work through CAPTCHAS in order to enter the sites. This can further slow you down.
There’s a spot in Tor’s network that is vulnerable to privacy issues – the exit node. This node is the last one in the chain to carry your data and the data in this node is decrypted.
If you happen to not be using a secure HTTPS connection, this data will be freely available to whoever’s running the exit node.
Furthermore, anyone can run this exit node, such as a hacker or even the government.
What Is A VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It encrypts your web traffic and hides your IP address from view. It works via a network of servers that are located across the globe.
When you browse the internet via a VPN, your search moves through one of the VPN servers and then goes to the internet.
During this process, your IP address is changed so that you can’t be tracked online.
This also ensures that it seems like your device is located elsewhere, which gives you another layer of security and anonymity.
What Are The Advantages Of Using A VPN?
There are many advantages to using VPNs. Let’s take a look at them.
- When you use a VPN, you’re connecting to one service, so you won’t experience a great reduction in connection speeds as compared to using Tor.
- You can access all content on the internet. You can even access sites that are blocked or restricted to certain regions in the world unless you’re in a country that bans VPNs or heavily restricts them.
- A VPN enables all web traffic to be encrypted. This is an advantage that VPNs have over Tor because Tor only encrypts requests when you use its browser. VPNs, on the other hand, will encrypt all traffic that originates from your device, so you’ll be much safer.
- Compared to VPNs, you’re only able to access the Tor network via the browser or via apps that have Tor access. If you use a different browser, you’ll lack Tor protection. VPNs give you more comprehensive protection. All internet connections will be private and secure.
- VPNs offer greater compatibility. You can use VPNs on platforms such as Android, Mac, iOS, Windows, Linux, and Chrome/Firefox extensions.
What Are The Drawbacks Of Using VPNs?
There are some drawbacks associated with VPNs. Let’s take a look at the most common ones.
- VPNs cost money. You can find free VPNs, but these should be avoided because they offer limited features and are known for mining your data. You will have to pay a monthly or annual fee to use a quality VPN.
- Some VPNs themselves can view your activity. Before you sign up for a VPN, you have to ensure that you check what data of yours will be stored by the VPN provider. There are some VPNs that will log your history and should therefore be avoided.
When Should You Choose Tor?
There are various situations in which you will gain the privacy you need by making use of Tor. These include the following:
- You want to avoid web traffic analysis. Tor mainly protects you from people trying to monitor your traffic, which can reveal hidden information about you such as your location and identity.
- You want to use the dark web. Tor has a “Hidden Services” feature that enables you to gain access to the dark web. This means you’ll be able to access websites through Tor that you can’t find with the use of other browsers. However, the dark web is illegal in some countries and can be dangerous.
When Should You Choose A VPN?
There are benefits to using a VPN instead of Tor. It’s faster than Tor, gives you more coverage and privacy than what you’ll achieve with the use of Tor, and your connection is always encrypted.
So, if you’re looking for greater cyber security and privacy daily, whether for work or when streaming programs, you should opt for a VPN.
Even though you have to pay for a VPN, you can find high-quality VPNs that offer monthly or annual fees which don’t cost a lot of money.
In addition, many offer free trials so you can test them out before you commit to them.
What to Consider Before Purchasing a VPN
- Check where the VPN company is located, as it will have to obey laws in its home country, and these could force it to collect and provide data to authorities, therefore putting user privacy at risk. Some VPNs, such as NordVPN, are based in countries such as Panama, and this is good because they follow no mandatory data retention laws.
How To Combine Tor With A VPN
You might wonder if you should use Tor with your VPN. You can do this, and there are some benefits associated with it. There are essentially two ways in which you can use Tor with your VPN.
- The first one involves connecting to the Tor browser and then using a VPN. However, this will require you to do a bit of manual configuration, but it’s worth it because your VPN will be the final exit node, essentially meaning that it will make up for Tor’s exit nodes that aren’t encrypted.
- Another way in which to use Tor with a VPN is to connect to your VPN and then use the Tor browser. How this works is that your VPN will encrypt your traffic before it goes to the Tor network. Note, however, that if your VPN can log your behavior online it will be able to identify that you’re using the Tor browser.
Is The Dark Web Dangerous?
Even if you’re using the dark web for legal purposes, there are many dangers in it. These include malicious software, scams, and monitoring by the government.
Do You Need Antivirus Software If You’re Using a VPN?
Although a VPN will make you safer, it’s focused on your privacy online. You can still be at risk of viruses, so you will need to install antivirus software on your device.
You might not be sure if you should use Tor or a VPN to make your online browsing much safer.
After reading this guide, it’s clear to see that both have their benefits, but VPNs offer a more comprehensive way to keep your data and activity safe.
However, you could use both Tor and a VPN at the same time, which we’ve also outlined as a way to boost your online security.