Tor, the most popular anonymity browser, is understood to offer key privacy benefits to users around the world.
An acronym for “The Onion Router,” Tor is an open-source application built on the Firefox browser platform, taking many features from Firefox and customizing them to offer users complete privacy while accessing the internet.
Though Tor is a well-recognized name by many netizens across the globe, there are several nuggets of facts that may not be known among Tor enthusiasts.
If you know and use the browser already, then this piece may help you further enhance your knowledge.
Here are 11 things you may not know about Tor:
#1. Tor is an essential tool for journalists
According to one school of thought, the continuing purpose of the browser is to help a section of the global community that genuinely needs anonymity, in terms of keeping their communications secure even from law enforcement agencies.
Journalists doing sensitive investigative reporting are one such tribe that can benefit from Tor. If the target of their investigation is someone in power or perhaps law enforcement itself, then their reporting could be pried upon—and their browsing history can even be tracked—to sabotage their work.
This is why Tor’s anonymity capabilities are appreciated by many investigative journalists today.
#2. Using Tor with a VPN can keep you secure on the dark web
Tor can either be used alone or paired with a VPN service, though it is recommended that you use both programs together for extra privacy—especially if you’re using the dark web.
It is only in the past few years that the general perception has gone around that Tor is meant for accessing the dark web and to carry on illegal activities to escape the long arm of the law. But recent reports have found that the Tor browser alone is not sufficient for protecting users’ activity on the dark web.
However, by connecting Tor with a Virtual Private Network, users can enjoy complete privacy under two strong layers of security.
#3. At its core, Tor is all about encryption
The basic strength of the Tor ecosystem is its ability to encrypt everything that goes through its network. Data cannot be decrypted at any level, besides the intended recipient.
This can be an email or web request or any other file process. PPTP, SSL and L2TP are some of the protocols used and the encrypted package gets delivered to the proxy server.
If you are very clever, you may want to know if Tor is good enough to ward off a hacker or an intelligence agency, like the FBI, from tracing your communication or tracking you down.
That is where Tor proves to be superior and employs at least three more proxy servers encrypting your data and obfuscating your IP address as well. These multiple layers of obfuscation have earned it the name The Onion Router.
#5. Some degree of discretion is still necessary when using Tor
Tor’s anonymity capabilities are the reason why all kinds of criminals have quickly adopted the browser and are enjoying a certain amount of immunity so far.
The only downside to this is that this very same habit of using the Tor browser can go against that user. If, through some other sources, law enforcement agencies have a suspicion on a particular individual and then they find that the person using the Tor browser more frequently, then there could be trouble.
#6. Tor is openly accessible and easy to use
Downloading and installing the Tor browser is not a very difficult process. You must, however, ensure that you download Tor from the official website of The Tor Project.
And without any doubt, you will have to use your normal browser to initiate the download. You can do this from your PC or from your Mac. Once installed, the software will find ways to create the secure tunnel that will be used to route your communications and data in such a way that the router at the end of the connection will not know your identity, unless, of course, you reveal yourself.
#7. You are still responsible for keeping your information private while using Tor
The thing you must remember while using the Tor browser is that your anonymity is assured only as long as you remain within the confines of the Tor ecosystem. Be careful to avoid disclosing who you are to the other entity you are corresponding with. Keep your details confidential.
#8. Law enforcement agencies use Tor to keep track of criminals
The combination of Tor and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have kept the law enforcement agencies on their toes, in tackling illegal trading in drugs and arms and stolen goods on dark websites. The feds have cracked many cases and even shutdown some major dark web sites in the recent past.
In such cases, the investigator himself/herself would use Tor and create a decoy account to deal with a drug dealer and then catch them in the act.
#9. The Tor browser can be very slow
There are also a couple of negative aspects regarding user experience in the Tor browser. By its very nature, the browser slows down your system. If you have been using a lightning-fast Wi-Fi connection and jumping pages rapidly, you may definitely feel irritated with the time the Tor browser takes to open pages. But if anonymity is your primary objective, you wouldn’t be complaining.
#10. Tor is one of the only programs used to access dark websites
If you want to visit hidden websites that are only available on the dark web, these sites are only accessible via software programs like the Tor browser. Conventional search engines like Google and Bing cannot fetch the pages that exist within the dark web.
In order to reach dark websites, which end in a “.onion” domain, you will have to go to specially dedicated search engines within Tor to do the search. Or, if you have the correct URL of the .onion site you want to reach, you can simply type it into Tor’s search bar.
#11. Tor is sponsored in part by government institutions and corporations
And lastly, a somewhat surprising bit of information about The Tor Project is that its list of sponsors includes the United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the National Science Foundation, among other government-backed groups. Several tech companies have also sponsored the project, including Mozilla, Fastly and Google (specifically, the Google Summer of Code program).