Tor Explained: What is Tor And How Does It Work? Is It Illegal?

Peeling the layers of onion!

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The Onion Router or Tor is a network that enables a user to stay anonymous on the internet and get rid of any possible surveillance, user identification, or location tracking while using the internet. You can access the Tor network with the help of a modified Mozilla Firefox ESR web browser.

As governments continue to block websites, one of the ways to access them this via a VPN. Many paid VPNs follow a no-logging policy, which is great, but free VPNs, even though they claim to use the policy, track you and sell your data. TOR, however, is completely anonymous.

What is TOR?

Tor allows you to browse the web anonymously by veiling your identity. It protects the user from any traffic analysis and network spying. It is perhaps the most popular and secure option available for anonymous internet connectivity.

Bear in mind that we are talking about the Tor network and not the web browser which is used to access the network.

Who Created Tor?

roger-dingledine-tor-creator

Tor uses the principle of ‘Onion Routing,’ which was developed by Roger Dingledine with Paul Syverson, Michael G. Reed, and David Goldschlag at the United States Naval Research Laboratory in the 1990s. Further development was carried out under the financial roof of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Tor Project Inc. is a non-profit organization that currently maintains the project and is responsible for its development. It has received funds from the US government primarily and additional aid from the Swedish Government and different NGOs & individual sponsors.

How Does Tor Work?

tor working

Tor uses the concept of the ‘Onion Routing’ method in which the user data is first encrypted and then transferred through different relays present in the network. Thus, creating a multi-layered encryption (layers like an onion) and a hard-to-follow path to keep the identity of the user safe. As a result, nobody can link your identity to any single point.

One encryption layer is decrypted at each successive Tor relay, and the remaining data is forwarded to any random relay until it reaches its destination server. For the destination server, the last onion router node/exit relay appears as the origin of the data. It is thus tough to trace the identity of the user or the server by any surveillance system acting as the middleman.

Other than providing anonymity to standalone users, it can also provide anonymity to websites and servers in the form of Hidden Services. Also, P2P applications like BitTorrent can be configured to use the Tor network and download torrent files.

Is using Tor illegal?

No. The Tor browser and dark web aren’t illegal on their own. What IS illegal, though, is performing illegal activity on the dark web using Tor, that’ll surely invite trouble. So, as always, we suggest you use it legally and enhance your privacy.

Tor And NSA Connection

The NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden used Tor to leak information about PRISM to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

However, the story is not all good-good. Tor faces criticism for the reason that it acts as a medium for different illegal activities like data breaching, drug dealing, gambling, and being home to dark web sites. Tor is also used by criminal minds to communicate over the internet while keeping their identity hidden, which makes it difficult for security agencies to trace them.

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has called Tor “the King of high secure, low latency Internet anonymity.” And it has received similar comments by BusinessWeek magazine, “perhaps the most effective means of defeating the online surveillance efforts of intelligence agencies around the world.”

Another speculation made is that Tor takes its funding from the U.S. Government, which may lead to the assumption that the NSA may have compromised the identities of individual Tor users. However, Tor’s former executive director Andrew Lewman disclaimed any confederations with NSA.

Is Tor Browser Safe?

tor_ddos bug
Images: Depositphotos

Various claims have been made about compromising Tor’s anonymity and security from time to time. The most famous one was the Bad Apple Attack, in which the researchers claimed to have identified around 10k IP addresses of active BitTorrent users who were connected via Tor.

The Heartbleed bug was behind another major compromise in April 2014, which halted the network for several days.

Traffic Fingerprinting is a method used to analyze web traffic by analyzing the patterns, responses, and packets in a particular direction. This technique can be used to attack the network by making the attacker’s computer act as the guard.

The main vulnerability was found at its exit points, where the level of security is very low as compared to the rest of the network.

What is Tor “Browser”?

Tor Project Inc. has released Tor Browser, which is a modification of an Extended Support Release (ESR) version of the Mozilla Firefox browser. The browser is portable so that it can be used from external media and also reduces the hassle of installation.

Tor Browser removes the browsing history and cookies after every use, thus reducing the risk of any cookie tracking. We can set up SOCKS (Socket Secure) based applications to use the Tor network by configuring them with a loop-back address.

It’s also known as the dark web browser since it lets users browse the so-called dark web sites that are accessible on the regular web.

The Tor browser is available for various desktop operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and macOS. You can visit this link to download the Browser’s latest version for Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Tor 10.0.6
Tor 10.0.6

How to download and use the Tor browser?

Tor is available for Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux. Here’s how to download and install the same.

How to install Tor Browser on Windows 10/7/8?

  1. Run the Tor Browser setup.
  2. Choose your desired language.
  3. On the next window, choose the destination folder. Using Tor would be easy if you choose the Desktop as the destination.
  4. Click Install.

The setup will create a folder named Tor Browser on your Desktop. Open the folder, and run the shortcut file to use the Browser. For Linux, you’ll have to extract the downloaded file either using the command line or a file extractor application.

Brave browser private tabs with tor
Brave browser private tabs with tor

Apart from the browser, you can also use the Brave browser that comes with Tor built-in. It’s available on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but the Android version doesn’t have it.

Tor Browser for Android

Tor Browser – official Tor app for Android

Orbot – a free proxy app with Tor for Android devices.

The Guardian Project, a global developer community founded by Nathan Freitas, is to be credited for the development of Orfox.

The Onion Router Alternatives

I2P and Freenet are anonymity networks that can act as Tor alternatives. Also, Tails and Subgraph OS are Linux-based distributions with built-in Tor support. In the past, Hornet was also an anonymity network that provided higher network speeds compared to Tor.

Should I Use Tor?

Tor has proved to be an excellent medium for a safe, secure, and anonymous web presence available to a user at no cost. The developers didn’t intend it to become a hotbed of illegal activities, but evil-minded people have leveraged the platform for their benefit, such as selling unlawful stuff on dark websites. The project has led to an optimistic approach towards censorship and surveillance-free internet.

You can use Tor if you want to conceal your identity on the web or access some websites that are blocked in your region. But refrain from doing anything that’s above the law because nothing is foolproof. Also, refrain from accessing your social media accounts over the network, as it can expose your identity.

Aditya Tiwari

Aditya Tiwari

Aditya likes to cover topics related to Microsoft, Windows 10, Apple Watch, and interesting gadgets. But when he is not working, you can find him binge-watching random videos on YouTube (after he has wasted an hour on Netflix trying to find a good show). Reach out at [email protected]
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