“Is Tor Secure?” That’s a bit of a loaded question. Tor has its uses and can be remarkably helpful for a variety of tasks, but is also very limited in a lot of ways. It’s a quick, simple solution to a long-term, complex problem.
What Is Tor?
Before getting into what it can do, let’s take a moment to look at what Tor actually is.
Tor is an acronym for “The Onion Router” because it has “layers” or security. It works like any other web browser in that you can view web pages with it, but with two key differences.
- It is the only way to access the “Onion Network,” a group of websites that are intentionally difficult to find and track, often referred to as the “dark web.”
- When you start the application, it immediately connects to a string of three proxy servers located in random locations around the world. This helps protect your identity by making it difficult to track your activity back to your computer.
The network is made of volunteer computers in dozens of different countries. Anybody can set up an Onion node and help contribute to the cause.
However, this presents a number of issues with the application.
What’s Wrong With Tor?
While Tor is very good at what it claims to do (mask your IP address for free), it also is not a particularly robust security solution.
First of all, it is only a series of proxy servers. Using Tor doesn’t encrypt your data. Even though it may be more difficult to trace your Internet activity directly back to you, that doesn’t mean that anything you send is automatically secure.
The volunteer Onion Network is a nice thought, but there are a few problems with it. For example, the quality of servers or Internet connections isn’t guaranteed the way it would be from a central authority running a server network. Routing all of your traffic through three proxies is already going to significantly slow down your connection. But the odds are high that one of those proxies will have slow Internet, making your web browsing painfully sedate.
The biggest issue with Tor, however, is the combination of these two problems.
If anyone can set up a Tor node, what’s to keep a government from doing so? Or setting up several to increase the odds people will connect to them. All the data going through those government nodes can be logged and read because your traffic isn’t encrypted.
Then Why Would Anyone Use Tor?
The fact of the matter is that sometimes some security is better than no security at all. Furthermore, being able to access the Onion Network is a powerful incentive for a lot of people.
The perception of the “dark web” is a place where people can purchase illegal drugs or hire assassins, but not every .onion website is like that. In fact, many major news outlets like the BBC, Reuters, and the Associated Press run mirrors of their regular website on the Onion Network. This is so people in regions with heavy government control of the media can get real news.
Similarly, there is at least one Onion Network site that provides an easy way for whistleblowers to send documents to reporters anonymously.
There are several real, good reasons to use Tor, mostly for people who are in areas that punish free thought.
Is There a Better Solution?
Yes. You can always use a virtual private network.
A no-log VPN provides you the same IP address masking as Tor but also includes encryption so that your data can only be read by the intended recipient. Further, because most VPNs run a centralized network of high-quality servers, you will have faster speeds than you would using Tor.
You can sign up for PrivadoVPN today for free and get 10GB of protection every month at no charge.
So, *Is* Tor Secure?
Yes and no, leaning more toward “no”. It can certainly foil many attempts to learn your identity. But the lack of encryption makes it only a furtive effort at best.
Is Tor secure? If you want to access the Onion Network, you need it. Otherwise, you’re better off with a high-quality virtual private network like PrivadoVPN.
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