Review of Tor Browser: Protect Your Privacy and Surf Web Safely

Tor is an acronym that stands for The Onion Router. While the name suggests it is a router, it is actually a browser. Tor is the browser that stands for anonymity and privacy on the Internet. This review of Tor talks about how Tor works and how it provides anonymity when you are browsing the Internet.

Tor Browser Review

Tor vs. Other Browsers

While Internet Explorer and Google Chrome offer the feature where you can browse anonymously (InPrivate and InCognito modes), they still lag behind when intermediaries are sitting between source and destination of web traffic. When you browse the web, send an email or download audio/video or anything, data is sent in the form of packets.

Each data packet has a header that tells about the source and destination of the data packet. Even if you are using an encrypted connection, the packet headers are vulnerable. Anyone sitting between the source and destination can read the packet header to know about you and your browsing habits. The people snooping include your ISPs, ad agencies and sometimes even the government agencies. As such, your browsing and what you see on the Internet is affected by the information others have gathered about you.

Why do you need Tor & Why

Tor has been developed with a total concentration on the privacy of users. People use Tor to send confidential emails. The high-level security of Tor makes it impossible for hackers to know the origination of emails and thereby the location of the sender. Following are some uses of Tor that make it clear as to who all need the safest browser available on the planet:

  1. You can send data anonymously.
  2. You can surf the web without leaving any traces as the traces are deleted as soon as data is forwarded from one relay to another. I will come to relays in a moment – in the next section.
  3. You can view the websites that are otherwise censored in your country – because the ISPs won’t know what you are trying to access.
  4. You can host websites that will be difficult to censor because nobody knows who is hosting the website.

There are many uses of Tor – especially in a world where user privacy has been under the prying eyes of different ad agencies, social networks, and government agencies. Also, your ISPs intercept your connection requests before you actually connect to a website. Using Tor, you won’t leave any data for such agencies.

The Tor Relay Network – How Tor Works

Tor Network works on a network of relays formed by people who have volunteered for the project. Unlike other browsers that have fixed routers that receive data packets to forward them to their destinations, Tor browser uses a number of relays. To be clearer, here is the procedure:

  1. When you enter a URL in Tor address bar, a random route is formed using the relay computers in the Tor network.
  2. Each relay computer in the network works as a router. It receives data packets, forwards it to the next relay computer in the network after deleting information about the previous router.
  3. Once the data packet leaves the relay computer, any information about the data packet is removed from the relay computer.
  4. Approximately every ten minutes or so, a new relay is set up to further protect your privacy.

The below figure shows how Tor works:

The aim is clear – to create a maze of relays so that all the information about the original source is lost in the network. This makes it impossible for the scripts on the destination website to track who sent the request/data and from where.

What Is The Tor Bundle

When you download the Tor bundle, you get three essential programs:

  1. Vidalia graphical Interface
  2. Tor Browser
  3. Tor Button

When you first download the Tor bundle, you are required to extract the files. You do not need any kind of installations. This means you can carry the extracted files on a USB drive for use with any computer running any kind of operating system.

Once you have extracted the Tor Browser bundle, you find an executable that says “Start Tor Browser.Exe”. When you double-click this file, it launches Vidalia graphical interface. Other than launching Tor after creating a Tor relay network, the graphical interface lets you:

  1. Change the default settings for Tor browser
  2. View the computers acting as a relay in the Tor network
  3. Check out the bandwidth
  4. Start and stop Tor browser (connect and disconnect the Tor connection)
  5. Check out the help files and About

Once the relay is set up, you get the Tor browser as shown in the first image in the above section. The Tor button is located before the address bar and it allows you to allow/block cookies from running on the webpage you are visiting. You can also change your preferences using the Tor button. If you wish, you can start a new session (a new relay) using the Tor button.

Note that you need to download all the components using the Tor bundle. You cannot and should not try to download and use individual components as your computer may become unstable.

Read: List of free Proxy software for Windows PC.

How To Use Tor Browser

As with any browser, you just enter the URL in the address bar and hit enter to visit the website you want. The bar next to the address bar is a Quick search bar. It allows you to select websites such as Google, Amazon, Bing, Twitter, Wikipedia and more. After selecting the website that you wish to search, enter the search term and hit the Enter key.

You can click on the Tor button (onion icon towards the left of Tor browser) to set up Tor cookies and other preferences.

You can further customize your preferences about privacy by selecting the behavior of Tor when it comes to InCognito browsing. Click on the Tor Browser button on the title bar of Tor Browser and in the resulting sub-menu, click on Options and again on Options. In the resulting dialog box, click Privacy tab. In this tab, you can set whether you want to save cookies, download history, passwords, etc. You can also set Tor mode where “websites should not try to track you” (Though this is not very reliable as ad agencies and especially government agencies will continue to track you irrespective of your will).

Drawbacks Of Tor Browser

There is only one – the browser gets slower at times. This is because of the fact that the data packets are routed through a good number of relay points in the Tor browser. I could not find any other negatives while browsing with Tor. Also, on some sites, you may have to allow scripts using the S icon just before the address bar. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter make extensive use of scripts so you may face problems if you run Tor with scripts blocked. You can toggle blocking/allowing scripts using the S button.

Tor Browser Download

The above review of Tor covers just the most important features of the browser. You can download it or get more details at the Tor website. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment below.

Browzar, another privacy-minded browser for Windows may also interest you. You might want also to check out this link which talks of alternate web browsers for your Windows computer, each offering a different set of features or this one about portable browsers.

CyberGhost VPN is another anonymity tool for Windows that completely hides and protects your identity online. You might want to also check out Epic Privacy Browser.

Posted by on , in Category Downloads with Tags
Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN

8 Comments

  1. Dancarendt

    Thank you for this story…I became a Tor user this month due to its NoScripts et al abilities to keep savvy users on better guard against things like Flame re scripts/flash/attack sites. But for those who would share that opportunity via the relay bridge for censored users: I’ve run a bridge relay and although getting per Vidalia GUI a couple hundred total users only have used 20GB out of my 250Gb Comcast cap; this is total including my routine usage; this past weekend I discovered w/o notice to me (and I’ve tested with several scan companies) that Comcast has apparently firewalled ALL my ports yet whitelisted only the Tor Project itself and me as able to access/send via ANY port. This creates impression that the reason I suddenly have zero bridge users despite Tor connection and Vidalia claim bridge is operating is that ZERO requests for bridges are being honored by Comcast firewall (my requests came in small numbers from almost every nation here and there, especially China/Iran). Other than that, I add only many similar VPNs have driver issues which crash my edition of Windows which is why I use Tor for research or unknown sites, and despite any firewall at least for now my Tor client is working and I’m impressed with what it delivers the average user. Not all ISPs may share the spirit for which Tor exists, so thank you again for helping to show how everyday people need something like Tor!

  2. guest

    i am a little lost may-be i have not read or fully understood,but (tor vs other browsers) mentions various agencies that wish to track you.
    i thought tor was meant to stop/block this form of tracking,but then it mentions (web sites should not try to track you ) and goes on to say that setting this mode is not very reliable.
    so whats the point.

  3. Dancarendt

    To my understanding, this is one of the ways in which Tor is of little or no use to those wanting anonymity for illcit purpose(s). The Tor Project claims today most internet users aren’t at Tor, Windows Club or better tech levels; for instance, Andy K’s WC Forum last week had therein links to browser security checkers…in my case, one scanner told me my browser was only one of 21 out of 2 million it has tested and which had my security or better.

    This is known as “uniqueness”, and the more unique you are the easier to track you are by style alone. Per the Tor Project, if your bent is simply not to be tracked these days it seems you can’t be deemed “unique” by websites or otherwise in encrypted data which may be intercepted by so-called “evil” nodes and compared to traffic analysis in general. That is, if an “evil” node operator sees your tight security and nothing else, or a website detects it, you’re going to be easier to find by process of elimination as so few private parties these days have such security and timing of your accessing Tor/appearance of highly secure effects can lead right to you. So even though Tor won’t let exit nodes deliver spoofed UDPs (spam), if some other “unsavory” type makes even high security exit connection to just about ANY JavaScript or Flash-using site, inter alia, and they obviously have to to be using the internet for illicit purpose, they can “beat” agencies temporarily by appearing to be part of the low-tech-knowledge crowd via ENABLING scripts and flash like “most users”…but then they are exposed to hazards of using JavaScript or Flash at sites which can then help find them via analysis of their own “uniqueness”: elements of their offense!

    To be sure, the average Windows Club person doesn’t engage in much that requires threat of discovery by law agencies via “uniqueness”, and tech-savvy people like them are not who Tor wrote the advice for. I myself disable all scripts and set Tor security options to warn me of attack sites notwithstanding (note: I find you must tell Vidalia GUI that each time you start Tor…it indeed remembers nothing!). If I want a tech tut at YouTube, for example, I can temporarily allow that single video…to my awareness nobody is “staking out” my everyday internet spots. My “anonymity” is a byproduct of wanting tight protection against malware scripting.

    But if I were merely behind a national firewall of free thought generally, though not really “illicit” I too would want to avoid “uniqueness” in watching that same dull tech tut. To avoid end-to-end discovery I too would then have to deal with state-of-the-art DPI and other analyzers via turning off scripts generally…like most modern non-tech users; and I’d still have a great Tor warning system re attack sites plus my own trusted antiviral program…and Microsoft malware removal tools since I’m a windows fan.

  4. guest

    dancarendt,greetings.
    thank you for your most interesting comment my aim is to be as safe without skirting or breaking any laws/rules or regulations.
    but i have to say i dont think that tor is for me,it seems to much like hard work.
    best wishes.

  5. Arun Kumar

    When Tor asks websites not to collect information about you, many websites would not do it. But it is not a reliable method if some person is trying to follow you on the Internet. You need some tweaking such as disabling scripts etc – as dancarendt said. Again, if you use Tor continuously, your ISPs will start suspecting foul. The best method would be to use a normal browser for regular tasks and Tor for tasks where you require complete anonymity. I guess dancerendt has already made it clear in his first comment.

  6. Elektra

    You should have a section titled, “How Tor Browser Doesn’t Work”. Anyone who uses Firefox should know that TOR is another Firefox product, with the SAME browsing issues….slow, lagging, continually “Not Responding”, taking forever to get something accomplished that you can normally do on Chrome in a minute or two. I agree with some previous poster who suggest using Tor only occasionally, when anonymity is required, but using a regular browser for normal tasks, unless you enjoy sitting there watching the little circle go around 77 times before the next page loads. *sigh*

  7. Domcetr

    please tell us how to use a downloadmanager through tor.
    (install the manager and configurate tor)
    thanks

  8. Giovy

    Another clever way to avoid your site being censored by any authorities out there:

    http://bit.namecoin.info

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


9 + 9 =