Someone’s watching over your shoulders every minute and second of your life, yes that’s exactly what happens when you use the Internet without the necessary security precautions, and that’s exactly where this Tor browser review would help you out.
In this Tor browser review, I’d discuss what the Tor browser is, how it works, why it’s considered safe(r) and other important points for the same.
The general internet browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and most others store a plethora of information about you and your activities, which websites you visit, how much time you spend on them, where are you browsing from, what are your likes and dislikes and everything else.
Wired published a full account of various people being tracked down solely based on the logs captured by sites and ISPs which proves that the data logged or stored isn’t anonymous as the companies claim and is potentially revealing or in some cases even damaging.
That’s massive privacy-invasion, but most people are okay with it and trade their privacy for “better browsing experience,” but honestly enough the reward (browsing experience) is far less compared to the price (personal information) we pay for it.
Now let’s get on with this Tor browser review and let me elaborate on the fact why Tor is considered is better and safer option to browse the Internet and how far justified the claims are.
Tor Browser Review: What is Tor Browser?
Tor stands for “The Onion Router” and is a browser which lets you browse both the general web (clearnet) as well as the Deep web (.onion sites).
It’s a project which was initially developed by the U.S military and Navy to protect U.S Intelligence in 2002, which was later publicly released as an open-source software for the privacy-concerned masses.
What makes Tor special and different from other browsers is that it doesn’t store any of your personal information such as location details, IP addresses, web activities or anything for that matter. It’s a browser made to prevent censorship and privacy-invasion by companies, agencies or individuals.
It also deletes sensitive information such as cookies and history everytime you exit the browser and also lets us setup SOCKS applications to use Tor to further enhance the privacy.
Additionally, it also has advanced routing and encryption algorithms which keep your digital tracks secure enough so they can’t be traced back to you which is one of the prime weapons in its arsenal.
In a nutshell, Tor is a privacy browser which doesn’t store your information, it also doesn’t log your IP address, activities or anything else and encrypts your traffic so basically, it’s a non-profit browser which respects and protects user privacy.
Although to elaborate the point better on what exactly Tor is, let me explain how does Tor work in this Tor browser review which should further clarify doubts about the browser.
How does Tor Work?
TOR says it protects your privacy, but “How” is the question, isn’t it? Even Google says they respect our privacy but trust me, they don’t.
So, the best way to explain the functioning of Tor that I’ve found over the years is the example of taking multiple routes and alleys in misleading or random directions before actually reaching your apartment in situations when you need to escape a tail.
Similarly, Tor too uses random “nodes” which connect from one node to another creating a twisted pathway from your start to end point making it impossible for any third-party to spy on you, or link the start and end points to you.
Also note that these nodes themselves aren’t connected to each other, meaning each node only knows its previous or next node or connection, but not the node which connected to the previous or next node, and hence the nodes too can’t complete the connection.
So to every node, or even your start and end points, it seems as if their next or previous nodes are the only nodes in existence and they’re totally unaware of the existence of the other nodes in the circuit.
This image should explain the functioning of Tor better:
Another fact which prevents the nodes from being linked to one another and finally to your start and end points is that an established circuit (complete node-connection) is used only for 10 minutes, once the 10-minute pass a new circuit is generated and used for your connections.
Hence it’s like you’re not only twisting and turning your route, but also changing the vehicle altogether.
How to Download Tor Browser (And Install it).
Despite its advanced capabilities, downloading or installing Tor is actually quite easy, and as this is a Tor browser review let me turn it into a complete Tor guide by showing you how to download and install Tor browser.
Simply head over to https://www.torproject.org/download/download (Tor download page) . Over there, select your operating system, Tor is available for:
- Apple OS X
- And iOS.
Although you can also download the Tor source code yourself and compile it if you’re an advanced user with the know-how to do so.
Anyway simply choose your OS and click on the download button to begin downloading Tor. (Please ensure you are downloading latest version of Tor Browser)
Once it’s downloaded on your system, installing it is the same as installing any other average program even though it’s anything but average!
Simply double click on the Downloaded file to initiate setup > Choose language > choose install location > click next!
It takes couple minutes for Tor to be installed, and then you can launch it either from your Desktop, or the location where you installed it.
Tor Advanced Security Features
As it’s a Tor browser review, it’s my solemn duty to bring out as many facts about the browser as possible.
So well, it has quite a few advanced security settings as well, here’s what they are and how to enable them.
Tor is secure and anonymous by itself, but you can increase the security level manually which may result in slightly slower speeds and lower browsing experience but the security won’t be compromised with.
To increase the security, click on the small onion icon just left of the URL bar, and click on “Security settings”.
On the new popup, slide the security bar from standard to safest. It’ll show you the consequences of doing so on the popup itself and if you’re okay with them and click ok.
Tor New Identity
It can be enabled by again clicking on the small “onion” icon, and then selecting “New Identity”.
It’ll instantly clear all your history and cookies, and provide you with a new Tor circuit for all your future activities.
Because of the new Tor circuit, your previous activities before clicking the “New identity” button can’t be linked to your future activities.
New Tor Circuit for Specific Sites
This again is an advanced security feature, alike the “New Identity” feature but slightly different.
It gets you a new Tor circuit but only for the specific site you’re on when you click the button. It also does not delete any of the information which the “New identity” button does.
In most cases, it’s disabled by default on Tor. Although you can manually do so by clicking on the “S” icon on the right side of the URL bar, and enabling “Forbid Scripts Globally”.
Tor Browser Speed
As it’s a Tor browser review, this section is mandatory as speed is a major factor for any Browser, isn’t it?
With Tor, it always has been an issue that it reduces speed, and quite significantly to be honest as the traffic is encrypted and routed via various nodes the speed will obviously be affected.
Although when Tor is used to browse the clearnet the speed is still not much effected but for the .onion sites it further degrades as those sites on the deep/dark web do not use the same servers as clearnet sites and aren’t as efficient in most cases.
For e.g. it took 5 seconds for Securedrop.org to load on the Tor browser on my internet speed, but it took 18 seconds for http://secrdrop5wyphb5x.onion (the onion version of SecureDrop) to load, note that I tested it on the same system, same internet connection and for the same site to bring the difference out more clearly.
Bottom line, Tor will definitely reduce your speed but in my personal opinion trading speed for security is a much better bargain than trading personal information for speed.
Why do you Need Tor?
Because if you don’t use Tor, ISPs and third party agencies/individuals have the capability to log your data, link it to you in real life and sell/misuse the data in various ways.
So, the first and foremost reason why you or I would want to use Tor is to protect your identities and activities online.
Apart from that, it can also be used to bypass censorships in situations such as when Facebook, Google or any other sites are blocked by your country or organization.
In some countries, browsing the internet isn’t up to your free-will and a lot of information is restricted, e.g. you may not be allowed to search for sex education, international laws or anything else which may dwindle the country’s policies or governance.
In those cases too using Tor would help you bypass the censorships and utilize the Internet to its fullest extent.
If you’re a resident of China, Tor is almost a mandatory requirement for you pertaining to China’s heavily restricted journalism and speech rights. Even I spent some days in China and that’s when I realized its need first-hand.
Whistleblowing is one of my most-favourite uses of Tor. If you’ve got sensitive information about a politician, organization or anything else which/who is powerful, you can’t exactly share it on Facebook or Twitter as there may be personal consequences.
That’s when Tor comes to the rescue; there are platforms like SecureDrop on the Tor network which not only allow you to share confidential information anonymously but are also monitored by major networks and news outlets such as the “New York Times” so yes your voice will not be lost in oblivion.
And then, one of the primary uses of Tor is browsing the Deep web! Well as it’s slightly a broader topic let me talk about it in details as you’re interested in this Tor browser review, you also are probably interested in the Deep web.
How to use Tor browser to Access the Deep Web?
The Deep Web is the larger part (around 95% of the total) Internet most of the general public remains either unaware or afraid of.
Well, the Deep web isn’t illegal, or as dangerous as the media portrays it to be, in fact, it has quite a few gems such as free patents for medicines, exposing documents about the govt. Or people who deserve to be exposed and a lot of other things.
Although most of the deep web sites worth visiting (which are both legal and useful) are on the .onion network, it’s a network which can’t be traced or tracked as easily as the clearnet (.com/.org/net etc) sites.
Additionally, the Dark Web too (the illegal, dangerous but smaller part of the larger Deep web) uses the .onion network.
And the .onion network can only be accessed using the Tor browser (or other onion compatible browsers, although Tor is the most).
Accessing the Deep/Dark web, always first start your VPN software (For high level security and anonymity) and wait until connection is established. (I personally use NordVPN ) Once Your VPN is connected, then fire up Tor and enter the URL of the site/hidden service you wish to visit. But as the URLs on the .onion network are long and random, e.g. random45124xi.onion. So you need Deep web link directories, Don’t panic, simply visit https://www.thedarkweblinks.com/, here you will find a huge list of dark web links in well categorised format.
It’s no different than visiting sites on the clearnet, simply grab a URL you wish to visit, paste/type it on the Tor browser’s URL bar and you’re on the Deep web!
Is it Illegal to use Tor?
One of the most frequently asked questions about Tor which I’d like to address in this Tor browser review is- Is Tor illegal?
Nope, not at all, not in the least!
Tor is just a browser. Yes, it does have advanced capabilities but even then protecting your own identity and activities isn’t illegal by any definition in any country.
Although yes, using Tor to browse the “Dark Web” (not the Deep web) may be considered illicit if not illegal, and if you use the Dark web to buy drugs, weapons or anything else which is illegal in that case the use of Tor becomes illegal.
But, you need to understand that it’s not the use of Tor which is illegal, it’s the activity which you performed which was illegal. Which is the same for any other browser, even if it isn’t Tor and Google Chrome or Firefox and somehow you are able to buy Drugs, Weapons or get Child Pornography even then it would’ve been illegal.
So bottom-line? As long as you use Tor for legal activities or simply to “browse” the deep/dark web and not perform any illegal activities such as buying/selling/procuring illegal materials, it’s completely legal.
Is Tor Safe?
But, is it safe? From a practical point of view? I’d say it’s as safe as the user using it makes it.
Additionally, even after doing all of those things you’ll need a VPN Service if you truly wish to be anonymous, because a VPN really adds that unbreakable layer of anonymity to your identity which Tor somewhat lacks.
So in a nutshell, if Tor is configured at its maximum security settings, and you’ve got a good VPN installed (I recommend and use NordVPN) yes, Tor can be pretty safe, military-grade safe to be honest.
Final Words on Tor Browser Review
So that’s a wrap as far as this Tor browser review goes folks, as for my final verdict I’ll only say that Tor is as close to a truly free, effective and trustworthy anonymity solution as exists in the current world scenario.
Yes, it’s not perfect and not completely anonymous either, but with the right settings and an additional VPN, it can be.
Do let me know your verdict on this Tor browser review, as well as what you think of Tor as a tool in the comments section.