In a world were companies are hungry for your data and many technologies revolve around extracting data from users, privacy is one of the biggest concerns. You might not value for data but companies like Google and Facebook use the data trove obtained from users to train their products and make improvements.
If you’re someone who is genuinely concerned about your privacy, thankfully there are many methods to keep it intact. To keep yourself anonymous on the internet, TOR browser is one of the most popular networks used by corporations and government officials. Understanding the Tor network and its effect on your privacy is a bit complex. Do not worry, we have got your back. Here, we will tell you what is Tor and how it protects your privacy.
Let’s start with the most obvious question.
What is Tor?
Tor or The Onion Router is a free and open source software that allows you to surf the internet anonymously. It is an internet networking protocol that hides your internet footprints by relaying your data across several nodes.
If you are using Tor network, it is impossible for anyone to track your web searches, websites you are visiting, your social media activity and other online activities. The Tor network hides your IP address which makes it virtually impossible to track your location and from which you are surfing the web. It is the reason why Tor network is preferred by many corporates, politicians, government agencies and journalists.
How Does Tor Work?
Currently, the Tor network has as many as 6000+ relays spread all over the world. When your data enters the Tor network, it is bundled into an encrypted packet. Next, the tor network removes the packet’s header that contains information like the operating system used by the sender.
This header contains information that could be used to track the sender. Usually, this step is not followed in a normal internet connection. The last step to keep intact your privacy is encryption of the remaining addressing information which is called packet wrapper. This last step quashes all the possibilities to track the sender of the message.
The modified and encrypted data is then sent to the destination server via a series of servers called relays. You can consider the data traveling through the relays as an attempt to shoo away the pursuer pursuing the data.
As data passes through a set of three relays, each relay decrypts data that contains information about the previous relay and the next relay onto which the data has to be passed. Each relay wraps the data into a new wrapper and forwards it to the next relay.
The number of layers involved in the network is similar to onion and which is how The Onion Router or Tor got its name.
Regular internet connection is also encrypted with the help of internet protocols like Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) but the encryption is not effective as the addressing wrappers are not encrypted. This could lead to the interception of messages and loss of anonymity.
Tor network also uses the TCP/IP internet protocol but the addressing wrappers are encrypted which hides the traceable information about the sender and receiver.
How Do You Use Tor?
To use the Tor network, you need a software that connects you to it and routes your internet traffic through the network. One of the most common methods to use Tor is the Tor browser. You can download the Tor browser bundle that contains modified Mozilla Firefox ESR web browser, the TorButton, TorLauncher, NoScript, and HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extensions and the Tor proxy from the official Tor website.
Tor browser is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. If you want to use Tor browser on your Android device, the Project Tor has recently launched its Tor browser app for protecting the privacy of users. For iOS users, there is no Tor browser app as Apple poses certain restrictions. However, iOS users can still use Onion Browser for anonymizing themselves on the internet.
Is Tor Legal?
Using Tor network to hide your IP address is not illegal as there is legislation currently that prevents the use of Tor network. According to the Tor Project, using the Tor network or the Tor Browser is not illegal anywhere in the world. However, in countries like The People’s Republic of China where the government controls the internet and popular services like Google and Facebook are banned, the authorities have blocked the usage of Tor.
Recently, Venezuela has forbidden its citizens fro using the Tor network. The fact that government agencies hate the Tor network is understandable as it allows users to surf the internet anonymously which promotes the freedom of expression and gives people a chance to report corruption and dissent.
Shortcomings of Tor
There is a cat and mouse race between authorities and companies who want to acquire your data and privacy advocates. Government agencies and companies are searching for means to break the Tor’s mechanism to maintain anonymity.
Tor is an open source software but it was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in collaboration with the United States Naval Research laboratory. Therefore, many people still believe that the US government can intercept the data that passes through the Tor network.
If you are unsure whether Tor is safe or not, here are some of the vulnerabilities of Tor:
- Like other technologies, Tor is also vulnerable to hacking. In 2014, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University managed to breach the Tor network and gained control of the Tor servers. They were successful in identifying the IP addresses of some users.
- Tor network is slow as your data passes through three different relays before reaching its destination. The open source community is working hard to minimize the loss of bandwidth while using the tor network but currently, the Tor network offers slow browsing speeds.
Should you use Tor browser?
The fact that Tor network was hacked once is proof that no technology is hack proof but this doesn’t mean that you should not use it. The known vulnerabilities of the Tor network have been patched by the open source community and the community is working hard to ensure that Tor is secure and safe to use.
Tor is not 100% secure but if anonymity on the internet is your priority, Tor is one of the best options you have. Others who do not want to compromise their security can use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and proxies to surf the web anonymously. VPNs encrypt your network and are also much faster and easy to use when compared to Tor. We hope that you must have got the required information about what is tor and how it works.