What Is Tor? How to Use the Dark Web Browser

Finding an Internet browser that offers privacy to users is difficult to find. Google and other search engines don’t value users’ privacy, collecting vast amounts of data. There are private search engines like DuckDuckGo, but they aren’t as all-encompassing as a browser. But Tor, the private “onion router” browser created by the Tor Project, works to keep connections private and free of tracking. In this article, learn what Tor is, how it works, and how to download it for browsing.

What is Project Tor?

Tor is open-source free software created with the goal of enabling anonymous communication over the web. It works through onion routing, a technique browsers use for secret communication on computer networks. Much like the layers of an onion, messages go through layers of encryption, bouncing off each other until the original source for the request can’t be traced.

The Onion Router, formally known as the Tor Project, became a nonprofit in 2006. According to the creators, Tor aims to “advance human rights and freedoms by creating and deploying free and open source anonymity and privacy technologies, supporting their unrestricted availability and use, and furthering their scientific and popular understanding.”

They aim to create software that people can use to keep their information, history, and activities private and safe from prying eyes. This doesn’t just mean hackers—Tor wants to keep your activity out of the hands of the government, too. The project defends against surveillance of all kinds. There are over six thousand relays in the software’s network, used to conceal the location of users from people conducting network and Internet traffic surveillance.

Tor - the Onion Router

What is Tor browser?

In 2008, Tor began developing their own anonymous browser for users. The Tor browser is simply an embodiment of the project – a browser designed to provide complete anonymity and privacy.

The browser works like any other browser, except with far less tracking and much more freedom. Because it has no limits on access, it's known as the dark web browser or deep web browser. It advertises the following features:

  • Blocked trackers, which means third-party trackers can’t gather your web browsing information from websites you visit or data about advertisements you interact with
  • Surveillance defense against other companies or individuals who want to monitor your connection and online activity on websites
  • Multi-layered encryption, which encrypts any Internet activity on the browser three times over

Once downloaded, the browser works at the user level like any other browser. However, it masks your IP address so that Tor users can’t be tracked by rerouting your connection through the browser’s servers. Therefore, it hides your connection and keeps you anonymous.

What is Tor browser used for?

The web browser is used for browsing the Internet anonymously, without dealing with trackers or cookies monitoring your activity. It automatically clears your browsing history and cookies after each session. This means your activity won’t be saved like in other browsers.

However, because users have so much anonymity online, some individuals use Tor for dangerous or illegal activities on the dark web. The Tor project is not the dark web itself, but it can give users access to the dark web. Under no circumstances should you attempt to access the dark web through this or any other browser.

Does Tor hide your IP?

Yes, the Tor browser hides your IP when you use it to go online. Because it redirects your traffic through so many relays and nodes, the dark web browser is able to hide the original source of the request, thus hiding your IP address. Your connection is private, and so is your IP.

Can I be tracked while using Tor?

Though Tor is intended to encrypt and hide your traffic when you browse online, it's possible that someone could track your activity through Tor. It doesn't encrypt the entirety of your connection, leaving open the possibility of malware that could then invade your device or track your activity. Furthermore, nothing on the Internet can provide a complete guarantee of privacy - even a VPN or proxy server. Therefore, while it's highly unlikely that someone will be able to track you using Tor, it's something to stay wary of.

Disadvantages of Tor browser

Though it provides premium anonymity and privacy technologies in their services, the onion browser is not flawless. Because the Tor Project is volunteer-run, it uses volunteers across the world to support the onion-routing process. This means that Tor browser’s Internet connection speeds sometimes lag behind.

Furthermore, Tor is not encrypted like a virtual private network (VPN), meaning it’s potentially vulnerable to hacking incidents. Make sure that you use an HTTPS connection to ensure safety on the Tor browser.

How to download Tor

Downloading Tor browser is simple. Go to the Tor browser download link on the project website; they provide downloads for Windows, MacOS, Linux, and Android. Click on your operating system’s download file and follow your computer’s instruction to install and open the browser. Once you have the browser downloaded, you can use it freely like any other browser. 

Frequently asked questions

Is Tor network illegal?

The Tor browser is not illegal to use. As long as you get the Tor download and use it safely, just for the purpose of remaining anonymous online, the browser is completely legal. However, it does not offer additional protections from the government if you do try to use the browser for illegal activities.

Is Tor safe?

Tor is safe to download and operate; however, it’s not 100% secure. Because of the way it's operated, Tor browser users are vulnerable to data breaches and other malware attacks. Use a strong VPN in conjunction the browser for the safest browsing experience.

Is Tor a VPN? Do you need a VPN if you use the browser?

Tor is not a VPN service. A VPN, or virtual private network, is a connection method used to add security and privacy to public and private networks. While both serve the same ultimate goal of delivering increased privacy to users, VPNs encrypt traffic end-to-end with a network of servers rather than a network of volunteers. If you use this browser, we recommend always using it in conjunction with a VPN to ensure that your connection is secure.