Despite its usefulness as a privacy tool, Tor is often associated with the Dark Web and illegal activity. Even so, Tor can help users protect their identity and remain safe from governments and other prying eyes whenever they’re browsing online. Learn more about Tor, the Dark Web, and what it means for you!
To many people with a passing knowledge of web security, The Onion Router (better known as Tor) is a tool almost exclusively used to access the Dark Web—a haven for less-than-savory characters and illegal activity. However, this view simplifies both Tor and Dark Web functionality, and doesn’t really explain why both are so popular. The Dark Web became famous after the well-publicized Silk Road incident, a major hub for illegal activities that was busted by the US government. Since then, many have developed a negative view of the Dark Web, even though it’s used mostly to alleviate privacy concerns.
Tor was originally created in the 1990s by the US Navy, but has since become a consumer product that lets users anonymize their web traffic by routing it through a decentralized network of nodes before connecting to the internet. The Dark Web is an internet protocol that uses additional layers of security to cordon itself off from the regular internet, essentially creating its own untracked and private web. However, it’s important to know all sides before deciding, and gaining a better comprehension of these tools to learn how to access the Dark Web safely, and how to use Tor smartly.
Diving Deeper Into The Dark Web
For many users, their first interaction with the lesser-known corners of the web is learning how to access the Dark Web with Tor Browser. However, before simply connecting and starting to browse, it’s important to understand what it is, how it works, and why people use it. The Dark Web is a section of the net that requires specific tools and configurations to access. This portion of the net isn’t indexed or tracked by Google and other services, and most people never know of its existence.
People prefer the Dark Web because it affords them complete anonymity and lets them do what they want online with fewer concerns about their identities being revealed or information being stolen. Naturally, this has led some to use the Dark Web for illegal activities. However, even with this perceived focus on a safer strategy to carry out illicit objectives, most people still use it simply for privacy. Journalists might use it to communicate with confidential sources, while whistleblowers prefer it because it affords them time and privacy to do what they need.
Tor Browser And The Dark Web
The Dark Web requires special tools to access, and most users can’t simply open their browsers and navigate to it. Tor is based on anonymizing users’ traffic and data by rerouting it through several nodes before connecting it to the internet. More importantly, Tor is the only way users can connect to the Dark Web, as it provides the protocols necessary to create a safe access point that is still anonymous. Setting it up begins with downloading the Tor bundle and browser before setting it up. Once completed, you can connect to the Dark Web, as well as Tor’s own .onion sites.
What Else Can I Use Tor For?
Though its primary use is connecting to the Dark Web, Tor can be used for much more today. Originally, Tor was only a protocol to route traffic through a decentralized network. However, the group recognized the value in offering an easier way to access Tor, and released its own browser. There are several reasons and ways to use Tor, including:
- Browsing Anonymously. Even if all you want is to browse your favorite websites safely, Tor lets you avoid ISPs’ watchful eyes and government tracking.
- Protecting Private Communications. Tor’s peer-to-peer model means communications are completely private and encrypted from prying eyes.
- Shielding Children From Unwanted Attention. Surprisingly, Tor is effective for protecting children from those that would steal their information and advertisers.
- Bypassing Censorship. In many countries where free speech is restricted, Tor offers a way to communicate freely with the world with less stress.
- Avoiding Identity Theft. Mostly, people seeking privacy are also looking for ways to avoid identity theft and protect themselves online.
A Good, But Flawed System
While Tor has some significant advantages over its competition in the browser market, it has some flaws. For one, although users’ activities while connected are anonymous, ISPs and governments can track users on Tor by monitoring entry and exit nodes (where people connect and disconnect from the web). Moreover, many suspect that the FBI has cracked part of the system, letting them track users’ locations. Regardless, the technology is still useful, but is better applied when combined with a tool like a virtual private network (or VPN).
Tor helps you increase your privacy in the Dark Web with Tor Browser, but VPNs cover many of Tor’s shortcomings, and can be an ideal tactic for protecting your privacy more comprehensively. VPNs can provide users with an encrypted connection, and are designed to mask users’ IP addresses, giving them a more secure way to explore the web. When combined with Tor’s security features, users gain a full circle of protection that delivers improved anonymity and safety. There are two major ways you can connect both services.
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Connecting to a VPN first and then Tor gives you a more anonymous experience, as your IP is masked before it accesses the Onion network. Some of the advantages of this method include:
- Easy setup lets you get started quickly and painlessly
- It provides better anonymity as it masks your traffic before you connect to Tor
- You still gain access to .onion sites and the Dark Web
- You can hide your Tor usage from ISPs and governments
However, it is accompanied by certain drawbacks:
- Exit nodes are still unprotected, and you can still be detected when leaving Tor’s network
- Some exit nodes are blocked and can leave you without connecting to the internet
- VPN disconnections leave your data fully exposed
The second method works backward, starting with a Tor connection and then activating your VPN. This gives you some benefits, such as:
- Better anonymity when exiting Tor, so ISPs and VPN providers can only see your exit node IP, and not your actual address
- Avoiding malicious exit nodes being monitored by ISPs, hackers, and others and protecting your browsing
- Avoiding closed exit nodes
Even so, it’s not without disadvantages:
- ISPs still know when you’re using Tor
- Some hidden services and .onion sites are unavailable
- VPNs become fixed chains that make you easier to find.
No matter which way you prefer to connect your VPN and Tor browser, it’s important to remember that while one tool is useful, making them work in unison gives you more powerful coverage and protection.
Harness The Power Of Anonymity
Despite its bad reputation in the media, Tor provides users with a safe and easy way to become anonymous online and protect their data while browsing the web. By combining Tor’s security features with a VPN’s encryption and IP masking functions, users can ensure that no matter where on the internet they browse—the Dark Web or the regular version—they’ll be safe from ISPs, governments, and malicious actors who may wish them harm. Taking advantage of these services in tandem gives you the comprehensive protection you need to keep you secure and let you visit your favorite known or unknown places on the web.