Tor short for the Onion Router, is the world’s most secure web browser that aims at providing anonymity to its users. While a regular user may not worry much about anonymity when it comes to using the internet, it is of prime importance to people who rely on utmost privacy for their work or business.
Journalists, spies, political activists and citizens of oppressive nations often need a secure way of accessing the World Wide Web and sharing data which cannot be traced. The Tor browser offers such security to those who may not want to live under the paranoia of being tracked through their web browser.
Developed by the US Navy and independent researchers in the year 2002, Tor has been used by spies like Edward Snowden to remit highly confidential files from one destination to another.
How Does It Work?
We are already aware of the ‘incognito mode’ or ‘private window’ which is available on our usual browsers, now take this a step ahead, and add unsurpassed security to it, and the result is the Tor browser.
The Tor network relies on the computer servers of volunteers spread across the world. When data passes through the Tor network, it is broken down into small parts which are encrypted and relayed across a bunch of servers before it reaches its destination. Every time it is relayed across one server to another, the encryption is modified, so that it becomes tough to track the data packet. The name of the browser is derived from its nature which is similar to the layers of onion which needs to be peeled off to reach the core.
Tor also maintains your anonymity by continuously changing the IP address so that your location is not revealed. So online data collectors who may be tracking your internet habits will not be able to perform traffic analysis. Purportedly, surveillance agencies, who track your internet habits to identify threats to the nations of the world won’t be able to track you if you are browsing using Tor.
How to Use Tor?
The best way to start is to use the Tor Browser bundle which consists of Firefox and an application that connects you to Tor. The Tor browser disables all flash plugins and other scripts that may make you vulnerable to outside snoops who can track data through these external plugins and scripts.
Tor also warns that using Bit Torrent sites will reveal your information to the outside world even while you are using Tor. It is advisable that the Tor browser be run on a Linux machine for complete security. Alternatively, using the virtual machine software, Virtual Box is also recommended while using the Tor browser.
Opening documents on like.pdf files on the Tor browser can establish a link to the outside internet making you susceptible to anyone who would like to trace you. So avoid opening files on the browser in order to secure your identity on the internet.
Why Use Tor?
Tor provides anonymity so if you are wish to conceal your identity on the internet then Tor is your best answer to anonymity so far. Clandestine activities that spread across the deep web, often referred to as the dark web, are highly dependent on web browsers like Tor.
The deep web is not accessible to us by the usual browsers we use, but use a deep-web link on the Tor browser and you would have access to some of the most secretive websites, WikiLeaks being one of them. The websites end in .onion rather than the common .com ending.
Anonymity is a tool that can be used for good and bad. Tor is used very often by citizens of countries where access to some internet sites is blocked, and where the government tracks internet usage to condemn rebellion. At the same time the more shadowy use of Tor is for drug trafficking, selling arms and ammunitions illegally, hiring assassins and the like.
In A Nutshell
Tor is not for the complacent internet user who does not bother much about the data collecting companies who track them. It is a tool that is meant for someone who uses the internet to achieve a deeper goal which requires anonymity. While the cause can be noble as well as nefarious, Tor provides them the platform they need to operate discreetly.