Although the use of the internet is pervasive, many users may never have heard of Tor. This network can be very useful, but the average internet user may wonder “What is a Tor browser?” and “Is Tor safe to use?”. Below, learn why the Tor network has become so popular.
Tor (an acronym for The Onion Router) is essentially a network that masks online traffic. Tor browser is an open-source platform managed by volunteers and, due to its onion routing, creates anonymity for users who access websites and servers through this network. The browser is often used legitimately by journalists and other users who need to protect their identities, for example, while investigating the opposition in a legal dispute, or researching competitors.
So, what is a Tor browser?
In the simplest terms, Tor browser is a software that allows users to browse the internet with a relatively high degree of privacy. The network and browser take their name from the fact that they direct all web activity through several routers—called nodes—much like going through the layers of an onion, making it difficult to track and identify users.
However, there is a close association between Tor and the dark web because the Tor browser is often used for illicit activity, even though there was never any intention for Tor to enable criminality. Although the Tor browser is legal in many countries, some do not allow residents to access the network.
So how does Tor work? In its simplest form, a Tor browser use onion routing to direct and encrypt all traffic, offering users a high level of anonymity. The network transmits traffic through three layers of international network nodes called onion routers:
Because onion routing effectively encrypts and relays data through multiple network layers, the Tor browser is highly effective at protecting user data and concealing IP addresses.
There are several questions worth asking about Tor, including “What does a Tor browser do?” and how its use differs from regular browsers. The Tor browser is primarily a way to browse the web anonymously. As such, the main reason it is used is to avoid surveillance and ensure privacy while online. However, many people also use Tor to access services that regular browsers cannot reach, such as .onion sites which only function on the onion network, such as DuckDuckGo, a privacy-enhanced search engine, which offers a .onion version of its search engine, which doesn't track user data, providing a more private search experience.
In addition, because Tor is closely linked with the dark web, some users use this for particular types of research, and also to carry out illegal activities.
The Tor browser does have several advantages, which is why some internet users can benefit from using it. However, not all of these will be relevant to regular internet users. Here are some of the main reasons why some users choose to use a Tor onion browser:
Aside from security concerns and wondering “is the Tor browser safe,” there are some other potential disadvantages of using this software. Below are a few things to keep in mind before deciding to use the Tor onion browser.
While the Tor browser, proxy servers, and VPNs all offer some form of anonymity, they differ slightly in how they work and the levels of protection they provide.
Proxy servers essentially function as an intermediary between a user and the websites they access. While they do obscure IP addresses and geographical locations, they do not encrypt data and online activity. Because of this, user data remains exposed and can easily be tracked and hacked. So, is Tor safe compared to proxy servers? Yes, to an extent. Despite the weaknesses outlined above, the Tor browser offers a much higher level of encryption and routing, giving users more anonymity. While using a proxy server alongside the Tor browser can help mask the use of Tor, using both a proxy server and Tor browser will not offer any further protection to users.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are powerful networks that fully encrypt all web traffic by routing it through different servers, thereby also obscuring the user’s IP address. The most significant difference between VPNs and the Tor browser is that VPN is operated by central providers who operate the network, while the latter is a decentralized network managed by volunteers. Additionally, Tor routes data through independent nodes, while VPNs route online traffic through remote servers.
Because of the close association between Tor and the dark web, many users rightfully wonder “Is Tor safe to use”? With an understanding of what the Tor browser is, the answer to that question—generally—is yes. Because of its onion routing protocols and data encryption, the Tor browser offers a reasonably high level of privacy and protection when used correctly. Of course, like any other browser, it is still vulnerable to an array of online attacks, such as malware and phishing. Here are a few security concerns to be aware of:
In a practical sense, the answer to the question of “Is the Tor browser safe?” is that it is secure if the user has a good amount of cybersecurity knowledge. There are numerous measures that users can take to further protect their data and identities if they plan to use Tor. However, there are limits to the anonymity the Tor onion browser can provide. Specifically, internet service providers (ISPs) and network administrators can still be able to see that Tor is being used.
Many users wonder “How to stay safe while using the Tor browser?” and this is indeed a fair question. As with anything else online, there is an inherent risk with using a Tor browser. However, users can take steps to mitigate these and be mindful of their online activities. Here are a few tips for safely using the Tor browser:
Despite Tor and the dark web being closely linked, using Tor browser doesn’t mean involving in illicit activities. It can be very useful software to certain internet users. Because of how it operates, Tor is generally safe to use, and Tor onion browser offer several benefits like heightened safety and privacy. Before using the Tor browser, though, users should be aware of any potential legal issues with Tor in their country, and that they could be flagged for its use.
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