TOR and VPN Privacy
Want to surf the internet anonymously? One way to hide your IP is by using TOR. However, before we discuss it, let’s get a couple of things straight:
What does masking your IP really mean? And who should you be hiding your IP from in the first place?
When you access a website the normal way, it can trackback the request to you using your IP address. Similarly, anyone snooping on you can find out what you’re doing online.
But hiding your IP means preventing websites, search engines, your ISP provider, and all others from knowing what you do online.
TOR can help you remain anonymous, just like it’s helping over 2 million people protect their privacy daily. Which begs the question:
How does TOR work?
Multi-layered encryption and thousands of relays (also called nodes) form the backbone of the TOR network. A relay is simply a computer inside this network.
To use TOR, you’ll need to install the TOR browser, which is free and easy to use.
When you use TOR, your data travels through many relays, none of which — except the exit node — knows its final destination. Additionally, no relay can know the content of your data.
Here’s an example to understand TOR better:
Let’s assume you open reddit.com using TOR.
Your request will first go to an entry node randomly selected by the TOR network. Next, it will pass through several randomly-chosen middle nodes. Finally, it will reach the exit node, where it will be de-encrypted and forwarded to reddit.com.
Each of the nodes in the TOR network, except the last one, sees only the IP address of the node that’s ahead of it.
- Reddit.com will think the request is from the exit node — not you
- Your ISP provider or someone snooping on you can map your traffic only till the entry node. Where it goes from there is something they can never find out.
Now, let’s check out:
TOR’s Limitations and How to Overcome Them
As useful as TOR is in maintaining anonymity, it has some drawbacks.
Firstly, it doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption. TOR encrypts your data when it enters its network, but not before or after it. This means someone spying on you can see anything that’s in plain text, like your username and password to your Gmail account.
Secondly, TOR slows down browsing speed — which is not surprising at all, since your data passes through a more circuitous path. That’s why using it for streaming high-definition videos or torrenting is a bad idea.
Thirdly, connecting applications to the TOR network is very complicated.
What’s the solution, then?
An easy way to beat these limitations is to use a VPN along with TOR.
A VPN provides end-to-end encryption and supports app traffic, so it’s a good fix for all the listed problems, except slow browsing speed.
Now you might be wondering:
If VPN encrypts data so well, why bother with TOR at all?
Well, there’s a good reason. You see, a VPN doesn’t make you anonymous in the true sense, as the VPN provider can technically snoop on you.
If you want complete anonymity, TOR is your best bet. And if you wish to overcome its inherent limitations, combine it with a VPN.
Want to know more about TOR? Here’s an infographic that tells you all about it.
By Josh Wardini