Tor browser – What is it and how to use it for privacy?

Tor browser logoLogo of The Tor Project, Inc.

A web browser is a piece of software that one can use for loading web pages on their mobile or computer. We have popular browsers like Firefox, Chrome and Safari. These web browsers are the breeding grounds for trackers and offer little to no privacy. Tor browser solves these problems and offers a good mix of usability and privacy.

How is Tor browser different?

Tor browser is named after the overlay network called The Onion Router (TOR). An overlay network is like a network on top of a network. This overlay network encrypts and structures the network request like layers of an onion. Three layers. First layer knows about your identity but does not have access to your request. Second layer neither knows you nor your request. Third layer knows about the request, but not about the requester. Tor browser passes your network traffic through this overlay network and strips your identity from the data you are requesting. This means that server will not know about your identity, which most browsers don’t hide. If used properly, it can be used to become anonymous on the internet.

Why use Tor browser?

Privacy! For privacy! In case you feel you don't need privacy because you have nothing to hide, well you will find here that nothing to hide is just a propaganda. Everyone has something to hide. After all, don't we have curtains in our rooms? Don't we put screen lock on our phone? Why?

If you still feel you have nothing to hide. Well stop reading and email me all your social media credentials. Let's make sure you have nothing to hide.

“Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

~Edward Snowden

Some rules while using the Tor browser

I realize you despise rules, but there are numerous scenarios where using Tor incorrectly may get you in trouble:

  1. Avoid changing settings of the browser.
  2. Don't install extensions.
  3. Don't change the window size of the browser.
  4. Avoid use of VPN in combination with Tor.
  5. Don't use torrents.
  6. Avoid online payments.
  7. Avoid sharing personal information (You should do that on normal browsers as well).
  8. Make sure the website you are visiting is https.
  9. Keep the browser up to date.

At first glance, these rules may not make sense. First three points are necessary to keep yourself anonymous on the network. How does changing settings or installing extensions on Tor browser effect anonymity? To understand this, consider Tor browser to be a taxi and the internet like a road. If your taxi looks like just any other taxi on the road, it is very hard for an onlooker (trackers) to tell in which taxi you are present. The onlooker can go taxi by taxi to search for you, but it will be no simple job. In contrast to this, say you customized your taxi and painted it in red. Immediately, the onlooker will find you.

A large queue of similar looking taxisPhoto from Unsplash

To know more about how software and anonymity works. Read this paper.

Point number four and five are very important before you use Tor. VPN with Tor adds an unnecessary layer before or after the traffic goes through Tor. This can lead to VPN recording all your requests, which may compromise your privacy. Only use VPN if you know what you are doing. Using torrents with Tor exposes your location and is an “attack me” signal to all hackers. This blog by the Tor Project explains in detail about the scenario.

In most cases, online payment platforms request you to share personal information to process the transaction. Platforms also often prevent transactions taking place from the Tor network. You may need Tor for currencies like bitcoin, ethereum, et cetera. You should avoid sharing personal information because you were using it for anonymity and privacy. It is like getting out of the taxi and screaming, “It’s me! It’s me!”

I would also recommend you to read the detailed FAQ of the Tor Project for more information.

How to setup Tor browser?

How to download?

Tor Browser can be downloaded for most operating systems from here. If you are using iOS, you can search for Onion Browser on the Apple app store.

How to use?

Using Tor browser is straightforward:

Linux, Windows & Mac
  1. Launch the application.
  2. Well, Start browsing!
  1. Launch the application.
  2. If you are on Android, you will see a Connect button. Tap the button and it will establish the connection.
  3. Well, Start browsing!
  1. Launch the application.
  2. If you are on iOS, you will see Connect to tor button. Then it will ask you about the security setting, choose Gold and click on Start browsing button.
  3. Well, Start browsing!

When to use it?

You don't have to use it always. It is just for those occasions when you want do something that you won't tell anyone. Not because it is illegal but because it is personal.

This blog would not be possible without open source projects like PrivacyTools who bring this blog online and WriteFreely, the developers of this blogging platform. Please consider donating to these platforms that empower people to voice their opinion.