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What is Tor Browser? How does it work?

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  • 5 min read

Browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome record most of your browsing activity and give out a lot of your details while you surf the internet. Ever wondered if you could browse the web anonymously?

Read on to find out about Tor — a browser that lets you roam the world wide web anonymously — well sort of, and also enables you to venture into the deep web.

Tor browser

Tor (The Onion Router) project was developed by Syverson and computer scientists Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson in 2002.

Tor browser lets you communicate with the internet by making use of the Onion routing technique. The messages you send or receive are encrypted in many layers, very similar to the layers of an actual onion, in the application layer of the communication stack itself.

It directs the responses from the internet through a network that is built on top of 7000 other networks – or also called overlay networks.

Due to this, your location and browsing activity remain hidden from network surveillance or traffic analysts. Although Tor ensures personal privacy and websites accessed using Tor are notified about the same. Many websites restrict access to their content in this case and return a 404 not found error.

You can also use Tor browser to access the deep/dark web where websites are found with a .onion extension. These websites can’t be accessed using other browsers like Mozilla or Chrome.

Also read: 10 best free VPN Services you can use to surf the internet freely

How to use Tor?

What is Tor Browser? How does it work? Does it make you anonymous?

Tor consists of a 3 layer proxy and connects to random public nodes following which the traffic is routed to the overlay and the data made to traverse through the exit node.

This middle tier generates an IP and based on that the website predicts your geolocation. Thus, your actual location is masked to the location of this middle tier, and your data is also encrypted.

The websites you visit could display their content based on the location predicted from the IP, and you may be welcomed by some third language depending on the location set by Tor.

If you want to access websites that block Tor, you can configure bridges which are not public, rendering it difficult for websites to blacklist the IP address.

Also read: How to remove a URL from autofill suggestion of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge

What is Tor used for?

Tor is also used by criminals to carry out illegal tasks — check out illegal online marketplaces like ‘Silk Road’, which was shut down, on your preferred search engine — it can also be used by journalists to get in touch with whistleblowers by creating chat rooms to disclose sensitive information.

Tor can also be used by anyone who wants to keep their information on the web private.

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

-Edward Snowden

Is it safe to use?

While Tor is used to surf the ‘Deep Web’, it is used to surf other websites as well. But in the case you access a website full of malware, and if your OS is vulnerable to it, your system will be infected.

If you’re looking to access credible websites, then use Tor on your main machine or else set up a Virtual Machine to access illegitimate or unsecured websites on Tor.

Also read: How to secure a folder on Windows with a password?

Is Tor anonymous?

Tor does protect your data and your location, but it doesn’t make it totally untraceable. It is just safer than the other browsers because it makes use of onion routing, but that’s just it.

Many organisations are working on decryption mechanisms using which data on Tor can be decrypted, and locations can be found out and are doing a pretty good job at it.

These processes are tough and expensive alright and if you are of the opinion that you have the freedom to privacy, consider using Tor. Mostly, any access made to illegal websites are under the radar here, and if you are good on that front, you don’t have to worry about your privacy on Tor.

You can download Tor from here for Windows, Mac, Linux here. If you want Tor for your Android phone, you can download Orbot.

Also read: Difference between a modem and router; Why you should use a router

Parinita Haldar

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