How Vulnerable am I When I use Tor?
It’s becoming more and more apparent why you need to boost your internet security. In between people snooping for your personal information and the reality of internet restrictions, a free program like Tor is sent from the internet heavens – though there are some things to look out for.
Sometimes selecting incognito mode on your internet browser may not be enough to protect your privacy. Internet privacy continues to be a controversial topic across the globe as some countries support more restriction than others. It’s no secret that advances in technology have made it harder to hide your personal information from prying eyes and therefore, people would use programs like Tor to browse the internet anonymously.
What is Tor?
Tor is designed to add layers of internet protection to users while browsing. Originally referred to as ‘The Onion Router,’ the program bounces your traffic from their global servers through routers known as Tor relays. These relays are responsible for passing traffic along the system of servers (or Tor network) making it difficult to pinpoint private information on any individual Tor user. The program is optimized to provide users with anonymity and thus freedom to use the internet.
Tor is the brainchild of military and law enforcement efforts to secure their own classified data. They wanted to increase their defenses and control their communications systems. The program grew into something more and eventually morphed into the go-to browser for all things anonymous.
Because this program works off of relays from a number of different servers, the larger the Tor network, the more security a user will have. These added servers create more twists and turns, making it difficult (though not impossible) for anyone trying to pinpoint a Tor user. Accessing the network is pretty easy as all you have to do is download their special Tor browser and start browsing. The company warns users to pay attention when downloading Tor as they should only use the designated application for browsing, or otherwise get service interruption – or worse, no protection. You can download the special browser through Firefox for your Mac, Windows or Linux devices for free.
Why do People Use Tor?
It provides a safe place for folks to browse the world wide web and in countries where the internet is heavily censored, it is an easy (and free) alternative.
For example, in a country like Iran where there are hundreds of blocked domains, citizens must look to take some extra precaution for fear of getting caught violating the law. They use apps like Tor to secure their connection and ensure their browsing activity is untraceable.
Journalists and political activists also use Tor as they try to be careful reporting news while keeping their sources safe. Local ISPs can catch wind of their location and report them to officials, so an anonymous option is a great step towards security.
Tor has a goal to provide internet freedom to everyone and so in countries where domains are blocked, it is more popular as folks are seeking a safe service and ease of use.
Due to this ease of access, anyone can use it. Popular among users of the Dark Web, Tor has been used by organized crime leaders and shady characters who are specifically hiding their illegal activity from the authorities. You may also run into the people who want to steal personal information, so be aware of the type of characters you will be connected to on the servers.
Drawbacks of Tor
Even while Tor is a great step towards secure internet browsing, it is not your most protected option. There are a few drawbacks to using the application and it’s worth paying attention to them so you can understand how vulnerable you might be.
- Not completely anonymous– Sometimes you may find that you can hide behind the relays of the Tor network but if you are on the radar of your ISPs or if someone has access to your home Wi-Fi network, you may not be completely anonymous. Even if Tor promises anonymity, you still have to understand that your traffic can be monitored. If not by government officials, then by someone looking to be malicious with your sensitive information, who is willing to connect the dots and ultimately find you.
- Performance Delays – Due to the fact that the Tor network hosts a large number of users and there are many layers to go through to remain protected, your internet will take more time than normal to load. You may spend more time getting though sluggish connections than enjoying browsing. In the case that you are a fan of torrenting or streaming geoblocked content, doing so viaTor will slow down the network – not only for you but for everyone on the network, so Tor discourages it.
- Lack of Complete Encryption – Your usernames and passwords are not encrypted to everyone involved in the relay. The computers set up in the relay are able to have access to your sensitive information. Tor advises users to use end-to-end encryption such as SSL for an extra shield for sensitive information.
Though Tor is a reliable service that has been trusted for years, it is still good to take a look at some drawbacks so you’re not oblivious to your risks.
How Secure is Tor?
Tor is designed to provide free anonymous internet to the folks looking to protect their privacy. Even while developers continue to make efforts to increase the security Tor network provides, there are times when authorities and ISPs catch on and monitor activity.
Not long ago, European authorities along with FBI agents cracked down on the dark web drug trade that used Tor. The agencies launched Operation Onymous where they arrested 17 users and seized hundreds of dark web domains. These domains were used to solicit the drug trade and authorities were using Tor to monitor them. Rumors swirled that there were inconsistencies and vulnerabilities in the Tor program but nothing was confirmed. Tor chucked it up to good policing and not a fault in their security but it certainly raised the question of their reliability.
This wasn’t the first case as another one similar happened recently in the US when authorities connected 150 people to the illegal sale of drugs and paraphernalia on the dark web through Tor. Once again it was never confirmed how they came across the information but it was another stab at the software’s reputation.
With these Tor Vulnerabilities, Is Tor Safe?
Tor has excellent features that have been proven throughout the years to be useful but it’s important to remember that not everything glitters when it’s gold and Tor will have moments where it will be flawed. Many times, you may think you have anonymity but you are still being monitored.
To completely protect yourself from prying eyes and snooping officials, you should add an extra layer of protection to Tor. An extra layer solidifies your secure connection and gives you a little bit of assurance to know that folks will have a harder time finding you and your personal information.
A VPN is perfect for your added protection as it can offer you secured connections to the internet and ensure that your information cannot be traced. A VPN, or virtual private network, is a group of servers on the internet that form sort of a safe tunnel to access information online. In this tunnel, information is encrypted and geo protected. Adding a VPN to your Tor application is adding a massive padlock onto your personal information.
Some benefits of a VPN include:
- Secure Connections – A virtual private network alters your IP address and hides it from authorities and folks looking to get their hands on it.
- Access Geoblocked Content – A VPN can spoof your location so you can get access to geo-sensitive content.
- Safe P2P Downloads – You want to be able to have a secure connection during P2P downloads and a VPN can secure that.
- No Logging – The best VPN providers don’t keep track of your browsing information, therefore, no one will have a way to trace your internet footsteps.
Similar to the users of Tor, VPN users choose the service to protect their identity and secure their internet connections. When you add a VPN to your Tor browser, you are creating an extra layer of security that people have to work through to get to you. You can also access information that is geoblocked or flagged as banned because you will know that your information is safe with a VPN. There are some great recommendations for the best VPN for Tor out there so take a look to see if any will be the right fit for you.
At the times where you may want to surf the internet with some privacy, it’s great to know programs like Tor exists. Honored by Egypt as the award winner for Projects and Social Benefits, Tor has been helping internet users communicate anonymously while facilitating civil movements. It will continue to be a big part of the secure internet community and if you’re looking for some anonymity, Tor is an ideal place to start.