If you have never heard of TOR then it is likely your internet uses don’t go beyond checking your e-mail or your social media, you might surf for the news or for the latest trending memes, yet still be oblivious to the world of the dark web. However, the TOR browser is something to educate yourself on as it has become relevant to not only cyber know-it-alls, but also to everyday internet users.
Short for the ‘The Onion Router’, TOR allows you to browse the internet completely anonymously. It works by routing your web traffic through other computers that are also utilising TOR. All the rerouted traffic is encrypted, a minimum of three times, until it finds the last computer within the TOR network (these are known as nodes). This, means that the people on the opposite side (or the upside down) cannot trace your traffic back to you.
There are some great things about the TOR browser, the major one being that you are able to anonymously browse the internet; allowing users to hide their web traffic from advertisers and Internet Search Providers. Additionally, using TOR allows users in restricted countries with restricted access to browse websites that they usually do not have access to.
Ironically TOR had a villainous start in the mid-90's at the United States Navy, and was funded by the United States government. However, in 2006 the developers took TOR and made the organisation into a non-for-profit with the intention of exploring and producing online privacy devices. This was revolutionary as these developments paved the path for Virtual Private Networks, such as ZenMate.
However, with good comes bad and TOR is not lacking in its disadvantages. Firstly, using The Onion Router can be achingly slow as your traffic is routed to jump from one node to the next and from one location in the world to another. And nothing is worse than slow internet (IMO); this means using TOR for day to day browsing, streaming or memeing is less than ideal.
What’s more, while using the TOR browser ensures that you are completely incognito, it does not guarantee you efficient security as the encryption is only utilised to provide anonymous browsing between nodes, therefore your communication and data is not encrypted which means it can still be accessed.
Although the network is distributed among several computers that use the browser, meaning that it’s near impossible for any government agency to shut it down, it is not impossible for government agencies to target, track and keep your data when using TOR. A report published in 2013, thanks to the infamous Wikileaks, revealed that the NSA would not treat any person utilising TOR as a member of the United States, unless they are positively identified. In addition, it proved that the NSA and GCHQ located and attacked any vulnerable software on TOR users' computers. And yes, while this isn’t a blow from TOR directly; it justifies that the router may not be as safe as you think.
Finally, TOR is not suited for changing your location due to the slowness of its network. Therefore, for everyday internet users a VPN is probably your best option as you’ll be still be able to browse, stream and communicate whilst being encrypted and protected.
Want to learn more about how VPNs benefit the everyday web user? Head over to the ZenMate website now.