What is Tor? | Trusted reviews


Heard the name Tor but don’t know what it is? Here is a brief introduction to The Onion Router, what using the Tor Browser entails for privacy, and what .onion sites are.

Tor, short for The Onion Router, is an anonymous peer-to-peer darknet designed to enhance privacy and resist both censorship and surveillance. You can use it to access both standard websites with a little extra privacy and security, and special .onion sites that can only be reached when connected to the Tor network.

The term “darknet” has all kinds of disturbing overtones, but its modern usage simply refers to a network of computers that uses the Internet to send data, but can only be accessed using specific software, network configurations or authorization (passwords, keys or IP address). restrictions based on address for example).

The general term “overlay network” is used to describe this practice of running one communication network on top of another. In practice, a darknet has a lot in common with a corporate VPN, where people working remotely connect to their office network and are assigned a local address with local access to that network.

People tend to use the term “darknet” in the same breath as the “dark web”. As we have established, a darknet is a network of computers that use the infrastructure of the Internet to host and send data that is only accessible to people using the right tool to access it, such as the Tor network.

The dark web consists of websites that are only available through a darknet, such as onion sites on Tor. The Deep Web refers to sites that are not indexed by search engines, ranging from sites and services that require a login to access pages with no links leading to them from elsewhere on the web. Many onion sites are not indexed anywhere and can only be accessed if you have a direct address for them, making them deep web sites.

The normal web outside of Tor is, by comparison, called the “surface web” or the “clear web” – I’ll use the latter term in this article.

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Precautions and confidentiality

When you are connected to Tor, for example through the Tor browser, your ISP may see that you are connected to a Tor relay, but your traffic is encrypted. As with VPNs, this layer of anonymity only works until you log into a service tied to your identity, like Google or Facebook, so it’s probably best not to.

Certain services, such as the secure messaging provider ProtonMailhave dedicated onion sites and can be securely logged in via Tor, but if you’re trying to be anonymous, you need to separate the services you use on Tor from those you use on a daily basis.

Facebook also has an onion site. This can be useful for contacting friends and family if you’re on the wrong end of a state-level internet communications block, but I personally would be reluctant to trust the privacy claims of a company whose ‘whole business model is based on selling their users’ eyes to advertisers.

Finally, since Tor only encrypts TCP traffic, you should avoid using services such as Skype, which may leak your originating IP address via UDP. For similar data leakage reasons, you should not use it to torrent.

Installing the Tor Browser

Getting to Tor is trivially easy these days. Go to https://www.torproject.org/download/ and download the correct version for your operating system. Launch it and you will get a login screen. You’ll probably want to check the box to tell it to always connect automatically, so you’re immediately connected to the Tor network every time you start the browser.

First Tor browser launch/login screen

If you are in a country or connected through a service that is actively trying to block Tor, you may need to configure the browser’s Tor network settings to use a bridge, but most users can skip the advanced settings until they have a specific need.

What’s on Tor?

By default, Tor Browser uses the Tor version of the Duck Duck Go search engine to let you search the web as usual, just accessing through Tor for more privacy. This is the most important use for most people.

If you want to access the onion sites, however, you will need to follow a few additional steps, although we do not recommend that any reader do so unless they have a specific and legal need.

Many top onion sites are promoted on the clear web. For example, the BBC lists its onion sites, launched in 2019, on a clear and easily searchable website. You can find its main dark web service in English at https://www.bbcnewsd73hkzno2ini43t4gblxvycyac5aw4gnv7t2rccijh7745uqd.onion/. You’ll find others discussed on clear Tor Web enthusiast forums, such as r/Tor.

Kaspersky VPN Secure Connection – 34% off

Kaspersky VPN Secure Connection – 34% off

The secure way to enjoy the web without compromising speed is now 34% off at £34.13 per year, which equals £2.84 per month, with coverage for up to 5 devices.

Compatible with Android™ and iOS®

  • Kaspersky
  • Was £52.50
  • £34.13/year (monthly equivalent of £2.84)

See the offer

Many journalists and publications use SecureDrop (http://sdolvtfhatvsysc6l34d65ymdwxcujausv7k5jk4cy5ttzhjoi6fzvyd.onion/) so sources can anonymously share materials and report with reduced risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, on Tor itself, old-fashioned link directories exist alongside a handful of onion spiders. Don’t expect the stellar efficiency of Google and Bing search, as onion sites tend to be resistant to traditional automated search engine crawlers.

Although law enforcement and other government agencies happily crawl, use, seize and manage sites on Tor, it’s a largely unregulated and unfiltered space – you won’t hear from these agencies unless you did something you shouldn’t and got caught up in one of their waves of illegal activity.

Expect to see more scams, malware, phishing attacks, random porn, doxxing sites, money laundering and counterfeit products when browsing casually than you would get on the web clear. It’s vaguely interesting both as a throwback to parts of the early web and as a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of the internet, but if you’re not here for security reasons, the recklessness of bas level ages rapidly.

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