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What is Tor? A beginner's guide to using the private browser



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Tor is an "onion-routing" network that protects your privacy online.


Tor project

If you're new to internet privacy and security, you've probably already read references to something called Tor – an acclaimed piece of internet-connected software with its own internet browser. Tor is embraced by privacy enthusiasts for its reliable encryption and history of handling users' internet tracks.

At first glance, the terminology surrounding Tor can seem intimidating and strange. But do not worry. It is simpler than it seems.

Here's everything you need to know about Tor.

Read more: The best VPN service for 2020

What is Tor?

In the mid-'90s, when the U.S. Navy was looking for ways to securely communicate sensitive intelligence, a mathematician and two computer scientists from the Naval Research Lab came up with something called 'onion routing' 39; is called. It was a new kind of technology that would protect your internet traffic with layers of privacy. In 2003, The Onion Routing project, acronym Tor, was in the hands of the public, where the vast network of users – the engine that makes Tor possible – has continued to grow ever since.

Today, thousands of volunteers around the world connect their computers to the Internet to create the Tor network by becoming "nodes" or "relays" for your Internet traffic.

On a basic level, Tor is a kind of internet-connected network with its own internet browser. Once you connect to the internet with the Tor browser, your internet traffic is stripped of the first layer of identifying information when it enters the Tor network, then sent bouncing through those relay nodes, which serve to encrypt and encrypt your data privatize by layer – like an onion. Finally, your traffic hits an exit node and leaves the Tor network for the open web.

Once you are on the Tor network, it is almost impossible for others to follow the manic pinball path of your traffic around the world. And once you leave the Tor network through an exit node, the website you are viewing (assuming it has HTTPS for its address) is not sure what part of the world you are from, giving you more privacy and protection .

Read more: The best 2020 antivirus protection for Windows 10

How to use I Tor?

Normal web browsing is easy with Tor. Go to the official site and download the Tor browser. Follow the installation instructions as with any other program. When you open Tor for the first time, the program will ask you to either configure your connection (if you are in a country where Tor has been banned, such as China or Saudi Arabia) or just connect. Once you click connect it may take a few minutes for Tor to find a series of relays to transfer you.

But once you get inside, you can use Tor just like any other browser. You will also be asked to view the security settings of your Tor browser. If you are striving for maximum privacy, I recommend that you leave the settings on their default selections.

If you are starting to experience slower than normal speeds, you can put Tor into action by checking for a faster connection path to the website you are trying to view. In the top right corner of the Tor browser, click the three line menu icon and select New Tor Circuit for this Site .

The privacy-oriented Brave browser also has an option to direct traffic through Tor
when inside a private window.


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Are there any drawbacks to using Tor?

Because Tor is a volunteer-run network, speed can often be a problem. If your traffic moves from node to node, you will likely notice more speed loss than, for example, most commercial virtual private networks . This becomes especially noticeable when you try to watch Netflix content via Tor or make voice over IP phone calls or video calls with an app like Zoom . Tor technology is not necessarily built to provide seamless audio-video experiences.

Speaking of videos, there are also limits to the amount of privacy Tor can offer you when you enable certain browser media plugins such as Flash. Likewise, your browser's JavaScript plugin – which allows you to view the embedded media of many websites – can still leak your IP address information. Torrent files with Tor also expose you to privacy risks. Due to these risks, Tor's privacy settings have disabled these types of plugins by default.

If you only want to use general, daily internet inspection with a browser that will better hide your traffic from spies, Tor is probably not the best choice because of its slow speed and incompatibility with most embedded media. But if you're concerned about privacy around a particular topic of internet research (and you don't have a VPN), Tor is probably the best choice for you.

Does Tor work with a VPN?

In some cases, yes. Usually, however, it takes some know-how to configure your VPN's connection to work in harmony with Tor. If you don't do it right, you risk that both Tor and your VPN are ineffective when it comes to protecting your privacy. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with both types of software before getting married to the two.

On the plus side, however, a successful combination of both can be helpful. While Tor protects your internet traffic, your VPN can be set to encrypt the internet traffic of other applications running on your device in the background.

If you want to explore VPNs further, check out our beginner-friendly guide to all the VPN terms you need to know and our list of the best VPNs of 2020 .


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