Tor – Maintain Anonymity Online and Defend Against Tracking

Privacy for Internet users has become, unfortunately, almost a thing of the past. Although there’s a certain level of exposure that people on the Internet can expect, in recent years, companies small and large have taken advantage of users and their information. Google and other search engines don't value users' privacy; they collect incredible amounts of information, and even entities like the government can survey people on the Internet. The only exception as of this writing, to a browser that doesn't collect user data is DuckDuckGo. Enter Tor: the private "onion router" browser that keeps connections private and tracking-free. Tor browser makes sure users can search the Internet with as much anonymity online as possible.

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.  Onion routing is 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.

In this case, there are over six thousand Tor relays in the software’s network that are used to conceal the location of users from people conducting network and traffic surveillance.

The Onion Router, formally known as the Tor Project, became a nonprofit in 2006. According to the creators, their mission is 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 browser

TOR - The Onion Router
In 2008, Tor began developing their own browser for users. The browser works like any other, except with far less tracking and much more freedom. It advertises the following features:

  • Blocked trackers, which means third-party trackers can’t gather your web browsing information from websites you visit and data about ads you like. The browser automatically clears your browsing history and cookies after each session.
  • Surveillance defense against other companies or individuals who want to monitor your connection and browsing habits on websites.
  • Multi-layered encryption, a feature that makes Tor so private. The Tor network encrypts any traffic on the browser three times over.

Once downloaded, it works like any other browser. However, it masks your IP address and personal information so that you can't be tracked that way. This means it can be used to hide your IP address very effectively since it reroutes your connection through the browser's servers. Therefore, it makes your connection hidden and keeps you anonymous.

The downsides

The Tor browser provides one of the best ways to search the Internet privately, but the Tor Project is also volunteer-run. Thousands of volunteers across the world help in the onion-routing process. Because of this, Tor browser’s Internet connection speeds can sometimes lag behind.

Because users have so much anonymity online, some individuals use it for dangerous and illegal activities on the dark web. But is the Tor Project the dark web? No, it isn't; while accessing the dark web is possible through this browser, Tor itself is not the dark web. Furthermore, under no circumstances should you attempt access to the dark web through this or any other browser.

How to download Tor browser

Visit the website for a TOR browser download link at the bottom of the home page. This downloads the browser to your computer, much like downloading Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Once you have the web browser downloaded, you can use it freely.

Frequently asked questions about Tor

Is Tor illegal?

No, using Tor in itself isn't illegal, as long as you use it safely and just for the purpose of remaining anonymous online.

Is Tor free to download?

Yes, it is free to download for all users.

Is Tor a VPN?

No, Tor is not a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, is a connection method used to add security and privacy to public and private networks. While both Tor and a VPN serve the same ultimate goal of increased privacy for users, VPNs encrypt traffic end-to-end with a network of servers rather than a network of volunteers.