Tor browser delivers the security and privacy features many users need in today’s exposed online landscape. A VPN provides web surfers with an extra layer of protection from prying eyes, but finding the right VPN for Tor is as much about fit as it is about perks. Discover the best VPNs for Tor to uncover the right service for your needs.
What is Tor Browser?
The Onion Router—Tor for short—a well-known privacy solutions service, released its own internet browser in November 2017. Tor was originally created by the US Navy as a high-level security network. Tor is based on decentralized networks, dispersing user data across nodes rather than on an individual location. This gives users anonymity by masking the source of their traffic as well as the route their information travels. However, even the safest networks have vulnerabilities, and Tor browser has been no exception.
Even so, users can double up on their protection to ensure their information is safe and encrypted by adding a VPN. Apart from IP masking and routing, VPNs help web surfers skirt geo-restrictions directly from their browsers. Using a paid or free VPN for Tor is a straightforward way to close any potential leaks, but different providers feature diverse benefits and functionality. Read on to discover the best Tor VPN clients and understand why it’s vital to always stay protected online.
How Does Tor Work?
Tor’s decentralized network offers several layers of protection for customers that enhance a VPN’s existing features. For one, users’ traffic is routed through several nodes—all run by volunteers—which change every time a user sends a new request. The information transferred across the Tor network is encrypted and scrubbed of any data that could identify users. One of the biggest selling points for privacy-oriented users is that Tor is not controlled by anyone, so there are no logs or any records of activity, making it more anonymous relative to normal web browsing.
Get Extra Security With a VPN for Tor
The Onion Router system is not without several flaws. ISPs and some governments are aware of the major entry and exit nodes for the network which allows them to monitor activity and block access, as well as keep tabs on individual users. Tor can also slow down web traffic, leading to slow downloads which mean it is not always ideal for P2P downloads. Furthermore, its promise of greater anonymity is not always assured considering governments can track individual users on the network by scrutinizing traffic from key access nodes. Adding a VPN is a straightforward way to double down on privacy and cover some of the holes in Tor’s infrastructure. For one, VPNs provide slightly more stable connection speeds, as well as better privacy protections—whereas Tor focuses on anonymity. VPNs can even improve download speeds and let users take full advantage of the web, including file-sharing and streaming, since VPNs enable users to control the server they connect to; with Tor there is no control.
Best VPN for Tor Browser in 2018
To identify the best VPN for Tor, our team of tech experts puts each of the VPN services below to the test. We’ve weighed each VPN based on several components, including their level of encryption and protocols offered, speed, and ancillary security benefits. Finally, user reviews and accounts are also considered to obtain the fullest picture possible.
Tor users will appreciate the lengths ExpressVPN goes through to deliver upon its promise of security, including creating a .onion version of its website for those individuals seeking anonymity. Moreover, the company even accepts payments in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, which is known for its encryption and security features. Apart from these characteristics, subscribers can also customize their security settings with four established protocols including the widely popular OpenVPN, SSTP, L2TP/IPsec, and PPTP, letting them add as much privacy and encryption as they choose. Moreover, ExpressVPN employs some of the most robust protection available, with an AES-256 encryption that utilizes SHA512 authentication. Overall, the VPN’s network displays outstanding traffic speeds, and comes accompanied by a 30-day money back policy if users discover it’s not the best fit for their browsing needs.
Users concerned about VPN providers keeping tabs on their activity will appreciate NordVPN’s stringent zero-log policy, which has been in place and successful until now. The company is also based in Panama, which is known for its user-friendly privacy laws. Subscribers can easily set up a Tor connection with NordVPN thanks to the company’s well-known OpenVPN protocol. This offers users a more secure connection as this type of configuration truly doubles up layers of security. While it falls behind somewhat on the speed front, it does provide customizability thanks to its IKEv2, IPsec, and OpenVPN configurations, which let users set their own privacy preferences. The company even hosts specific servers that are pre-configured to work with Onion over VPN. If customers are unhappy or not convinced of the service’s fit, NordVPN incorporates a 30-day money-back guarantee in their subscriptions.
Though it’s less widely recognized than some of its peers as a Tor VPN client, SaferVPN offers users several security benefits that, when paired with an Onion router, can enhance privacy and anonymity when browsing. The company employs a 256-bit AES protocol for data encryption, and gives customers IKEv2, L2TP-IPsec, PPTP, and OpenVPN alternatives, all known for their robust security algorithms, for personalization. We did find that although speeds were generally fast, there were some issues with reliability and periodic lag. Though it claims to abide by a strict zero logs policy on the company’s website, the firm does minimal logging of users’ activities online. As per the market standard, this VPN also includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
PrivateVPN has been hailed as a security-conscious alternative for users concerned about their protection online. The company presents users with an impressive amount of customization options for encryption protocols, including the widely popular OpenVPN, SOCKS5, HTTP Proxy, PPTP, L2TP, IPsec, and IKEv2. PrivateVPN is also well known for reliable connection speeds that offer very little downside. Privacy-oriented users will appreciate the company’s strict zero-logging policy, which goes along with a commitment to not turn information over to government authorities. This VPN’s clients enjoy a speedy connection and minimal lag time. Users who are not fully convinced that PrivateVPN is the right fit can obtain a full refund within 30 days of purchasing a subscription.
VPN-over-Tor vs. Tor-over-VPN – Which is Better?
When combining VPNs and Tor, there are two ways to go about it: VPN over Tor, or Tor over VPN. Using a VPN over a Tor network means connecting to Tor, and then further encrypting your traffic with a VPN. Some benefits of this include:
- Further IP encryption because it is already masked by Tor
- A greater degree of anonymity
- Blocking ISPs from noting that you are connected to a VPN
- Better control over your server location choices
Using Tor over VPN, on the other hand, means using a VPN-encrypted connection to access the Tor network. This also offers key advantages, including:
- Easier configuration, as it doesn’t require setting up protocols and access paths
- No activity tracking or monitoring of what you are sending, just that you are connecting to Tor
- Retention of access to .onion sites and hidden services in the Onion network
- Better benefits for security-minded users
In the end, there’s no right way to connect, but how you combine the two services will depend largely on your personal preferences and needs.
Is Tor Legal?
Despite the scandalous headlines and news related to Tor and anonymous browsing, the Onion network is fully legal and offers services to clients worldwide. However, not every user connected to Tor does so for innocent reasons, and the anonymity has been known to lead to some using it for nefarious purposes. It has also been linked to the Dark Net, which is known as a central location for illicit activity. While using Tor will not result in legal action against you, it may raise some eyebrows by ISPs who track it closely. However, using a VPN for Tor can easily help you evade this unwanted attention.
Can You Use Tor with a Free VPN?
A rather popular question is whether you can use a free VPN for Tor. While it is a possibility, it is not one we recommend you try. Though you will not have to pay for the service, there is no guarantee that the service is up to par, avoids logging activities of a VPN client, or that it even provides you with a worthy connection. Moreover, many free VPNs are simply stripped-down versions of paid services, and will remove many of the features that make VPNs ideal solutions. In the end, if you’re seeking protection, a free VPN may be a good way to test a service, but a paid provider will deliver the best results.
Additional Tips to Stay Safe Online
Even when using a VPN and Tor to cover your tracks online, there are ways hackers could still reach you. When browsing the web, regularly applying these tips can help protect you better:
- Always be careful when browsing websites. Check URLs to ensure they are encrypted (HTTPS) before navigating to them.
- When connecting to public networks, make sure you have a layer of security active on your computer or device such as a VPN.
- Always delete your cookies and temporary files as they may include trackers or contain other malicious code.
- If you can, pay with cryptocurrencies, which are anonymous and give you greater protection online.
- Avoid visiting known suspicious sites.