- Tor is short for The Onion Router (thus the logo) ,It is a browser that connects you to a tor network and was initially a worldwide network of servers developed with the U.S.
- The Tor network disguises your identity by moving your traffic across different Tor servers and encrypting that traffic so it isn’t traced back to you. Anyone who tries would see traffic coming from random nodes on the Tor network, rather than your computer.
- If you want to be anonymous—say, if you live under a dictatorship, you’re a journalist in an oppressive country, or a hacker looking to stay hidden from the government—Tor is one of the easiest ways to anonymize your traffic, and it’s free. It’s far from perfect, though (we’ll get to that in a moment).
- On a more general level, Tor is useful for anyone who wants to keep their internet activities out of the hands of advertisers, ISPs, and websites. That includes people getting around censorship restrictions in their country, police officers looking to hide their IP address or anyone else who doesn’t want their browsing habits linked to them.
Is tor really that good?
Tor is handy, but it’s far from perfect. Don’t think just because you’re using Tor that you’re perfectly anonymous. Someone like the NSA can tell if you’re a Tor user and that makes them more likely to target you. With an enough work, the government can figure out who you are. Motherboard points to a recent FBI bust that shows how this might work: The FBI’s big child porn bust this summer also raised some suspicion from privacy advocates over how easy it is for the Feds to infiltrate Tor. The FBI managed to crack the anonymous network by injecting malware into the browser, in order to identify what it called “the “largest child porn facilitator on the planet.” In the process, the malware revealed the IP addresses of hundreds of users.
Just using Tor isn’t enough to keep you safe in all cases. Browser exploits, large-scale surveillance, and general user security are all challenging topics for the average internet user. These attacks make it clear that we, the broader internet community, need to keep working on better security for browsers and other internet-facing applications.
As the How-To Geek points out, you still need to use HTTPS whenever possible to protect yourself from man-in-the-middle style attacks. Likewise, Tor’s only as strong as its browser, which has had security flaws before, so it’s worth making sure you always have the newest version.
So Should You Use Tor?
As we mentioned above, if you’re an average user looking at cat GIFs and browsing Facebook, you probably don’t need to worry about the government spying on your activity, and Tor is just going to slow down your connection. It’s more likely that you need to secure your internet rather than anonymize it, say when you’re using public Wi-Fi. In that case, you’d want to make sure you’re using HTTPS on all sites that support it, and possibly even use a VPN to encrypt all your traffic when you’re away from home.
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