While both Tor and VPN are great security precautions in this day of sensitive data exchange, there is still debate on whether using them together gives us the best solution to internet anonymity and privacy.
Essentially, doubling up on measures to ensure your anonymity and prevent data losses is what everyone would prefer and in some cases doing so can help you immensely in safeguarding yourself in the vast sea of information and networks that are the great internet. However, despite best efforts, it is safe to say that TOR is not 100% safe without a VPN.
TOR is free software, created by a nonprofit organization with users and volunteers around the globe, which allows the user to anonymize their internet traffic and help from being targeted online. In essence, it means no one can see exactly what you are doing online while you use the Tor browser.
Apart from anonymity, it’s is widely known to be detrimental in accessing the Dark Web, a collection of hidden sites and networks not easily accessible to the regular internet user. Tor helps hide your web footprint from nosy advertisers and helps bypass regional internet censorship in countries with strict access restrictions.
It does all this by randomly routing itself through various Tor servers before making a connection request and exiting through a node. This is vital in keeping your online identity private and anonymous as it blocks the traffic from being tracked en route and hides the user’s location through concealment of IP addresses.
However, Tor users have been known to be victims of attacks and data breaches. This is due to minimal security on their devices and the fact that even Tor is not completely secure from people who want to break into it. Like every other system in this age of technology, it sure does have its weaknesses that people can exploit if they tried hard enough. Even browsing questionable sites without knowledge can open up your computer to malware and other harmful files with a security plan set in place beforehand.
Apart from targeted attacks, using Tor without add-on privacy features from VPNs can lead to other disadvantages and security concerns. For one, browsing speed using Tor alone is pretty slow. Since your data is randomly bounced through multiple servers or “nodes”, often in different parts of the world, your internet experience is heavily affected.
Even if your Internet connection is very fast, you may only do casual browsing with buffering issues on video content. Consider P2P filesharing, despite having uninterrupted access to BitTorrent and such, Tor still performs incredibly slow which can further affect all other users in the torrenting network. Another flaw with using Tor is knowing beforehand what sites you can visit.
A comprehensive list of sites and a small part of the entire internet has the Tor browser blocked from accessing it, especially since providers are aware that you’re using Tor. This can make browsing tricky and a hassle since you only have a handful of legit sites that you have access to.
Is Tor Safe Without VPN?
One of the biggest concerns of using Tor without hiding yourself better comes in the form of being tracked by your exit. If your exit node is compromised, your data is liable to be leaked and misused in a variety of ways. This is where a VPN helps Tor users stay safer and more secure.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connects your device to a server hosted by the VPN company itself, which acts as the middle man to all requests made to the internet and ensures any data you send over this private network is encrypted and safe from prying eyes. Websites you visit and other people on the internet can’t see who you are or where your IP address actually is from.
Even your ISP can’t see what you’re requesting from the internet, all it sees is that you’re connected to your VPN’s server and since your connection to your VPN is encrypted, they can’t even see any browsing data or what you’re doing on the internet. Using a VPN means leaving for IP loggings or footprints of you on any site. You can even select what country to access the internet from, thus enabling you to hide your real location.
Using Tor with VPN gives the user an extra layer of privacy because the added encryption prevents your entry and exit node from knowing your actual IP address. Basically, the user connects to his VPN, and then loads the Tor browser which in turn adds its own secure routing and mixed with the VPN’s security protocol, gives out a perfect path that ensures the user’s anonymity and privacy while browsing the internet.
Using a VPN also hides the fact that you’re using the Tor browser, to begin with. Even your ISP is unaware of you using Tor, and thus your access to most websites on the internet is easy and without restrictions.
There is no IP logging or tracking of data transfers, and the VPN also encrypts some internet traffic that Tor does not support. With all these measures in place, you have a secure connection to surf the internet without worrying about troubling entities on the web or any leak of personal data.
There are, however, some minor downsides to using both a Tor browser and a VPN in concert. Not everybody can configure their Tor browser with a VPN correctly, and unless you are an advanced user who knows their stuff, it is recommended that you not use both this software together and risk compromising your security further.
Furthermore, when you’re using a VPN with Tor, you’re lifting the trust from your ISP and putting it on your VPN. Be sure to pick a reputable provider, one that doesn’t track IP loggings or monitor your traffic itself.
Instead of taking the risk with Tor’s own security protocols (however relatively safe), it is better and safer to use it with a VPN so that you have double the security and encryption over your internet presence and internet roaming.