Ever consider using the Tor Browser to explore the hidden underbelly of the dark web? It is normal to be curious about what is on there.
Even if you do not anticipate participating in illegal activity, you may ask if Tor is Safe for Normal Browsing. Before you do explore the unknown, this article will explain what you are getting yourself into and what are the risks.
The Tor Browser is safe for normal browsing. There are many illegal activities happening through this network. Simply accessing and viewing information is safe and legal. Your activity and interaction with this resource (such as making purchases of contraband) can be illegal and cause you harm.
Table of Contents
What is Tor Browser?
Tor provides a way to communicate and browse the internet anonymously. Using your standard browser like Internet Explorer, the information you send and receive online is not under protection. This means it is possible for a hacker or the government to see you or your internet activity. The chances of this are small. But there any many people who choose to hide their activity for privacy instead of just illegal purposes.
Tor stands for The Onion Routing project. To understand why it’s given that name you first need to know how it works. Tor works by sending data through multiple points or relays when you search The Internet normally the information goes from you to a server to its destination such as a website and back again.
With this system, there are hundreds and thousands of points in between selected at random. As it does this the information is also encrypted making interception not as likely.
So, think of each point or relay as the layer of an onion. in order to find the data that has been sent you would have to peel back each layer of the onion to find what’s inside. peeling back the layers of an onion is a common phrase in network security. that is because no one means of security is 100% effective. that is why you have multiple means of security and protecting yourself.
What is on Tor?
What you expect to find on tor varies greatly. You can find mainstream websites with no illegal intent on tour. But you can also find a lot of things that would otherwise be prohibited on the normal web. Remember, Tor is primarily for privacy and the illegal activity is a result of that original intent.
Is Tor Really Anonymous?
Is Tor Browser Free?
Tor is free to use. There may be some companies or scammers who try to trick people into paying for products that involve Tor. These could include an additional browser or security products. But Tor in itself is free and no expensive software is necessary in order to access it.
Is Tor a VPN?
Tor is not a VPN. There are some similarities between Tor and a VPN, but many major differences exist. For that reason, you would not use Tor and a VPN for the same reasons. As far as similarities, both Tor and a VPN make it possible to hide your location. However, a VPN does not hide the content being sent. Also, a VPN will not allow you to access the dark web.
However, one benefit to a VPN is that it is faster because the information sent does not bounce between so many different points or relays. For example, you would want to use Tor to make sure all of your communication is private. And it would be the only way to access the dark web.
Is Tor a Proxy?
For many of the reasons that differentiate Tor from a VPN, it is also different from a proxy. While a proxy will help with hiding your location and identity, it will not get you onto the dark web. Finally, Tor is the only one of these solutions that will encrypt the data being sent and make it more difficult to intercept.
Is Tor a Search Engine?
There are many misconceptions about what Tor actually is. One of the most common questions I get asked is whether or not Tor is a search engine. This is not the case. Think of a search engine as a librarian walking around the library trying to find a book you requested. Think of Tor not as the librarian but as the way they share books. There would be no covers on the books for any outsiders to tell what data the books contain or who requested it.
Why use Tor Browser?
Privacy is the most popular reason people decide to use Tor. When you browse the internet without using Tor, the messages that you send and receive can all be intercepted by hackers or the government. The same is true for the websites that you visit. People who use Tor believe it is best to keep this information private and away from prying eyes.
Staying anonymous is another reason. I do draw a distinction between mere privacy concerns and the concept of remaining anonymous. I think of it more along the lines of allowing and promoting a freer expression of ideas. Being able to stay anonymous allows people who would otherwise not share or engage to do so without fear. Whether this is a fear of repercussions or simply social fears, Tor can put fears at ease.
Lastly, illegal activity is certainly one reason to use Tor. When major media outlets and people unfamiliar with Tor report about it, they tend to focus solely on illegal activity. It is true that there is illegal information on Tor such as stolen credit card information, pornography, stolen data, etc. These are not the main or sole purpose of Tor. These are unfortunate side effects of criminals taking advantage of anonymity.
Big Tech Censorship
Countries like China have such strong censorship that most people find it repressive. Countries like them maintain a strong grip on the information shared with their citizens so that they can better control politics and maintain power. For example, they are more likely than freer countries to restrict the information that shines the government in a negative light.
China and countries like it are not the only ones who fall into this category. Even in the United States, it seems in recent years that certain speech has begun to be censored. At first, people moved away from mainstream sources to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
But now it would appear these major social networks are on board with major corporations and the government. That is why other platforms continue to build and grow. It is also the reason why Tor is becoming more popular. It is a way to bypass the growing forces of censorship.
How to Use Tor Browser
Tor Browser can be used to browse websites that are a part of the program. These sites are built specifically for Tor. These sites built for Tor are only accessible through Tor. However, it is possible to view normal websites and dot com websites that are viewable through all other browsers. Tor is not best described as a program, however, it is more of a process for transmitting information privately.
For example, you can think of Microsoft Outlook as the program that sends and receives an email. However, Tor would be more akin to the process in the background making this transfer of emails secure.
Downloading the Tor Browser is simple and easy since this is free and open-source software. Navigate to www.torproject.org. Tor is not just a website, there is a program you have to download in order to make use of the system.
Navigating to .onion sites is simple once you know what the web address is. Like dot com websites, there is a string of letters and numbers that are specific to each site. Instead of ending in dot com, net, or org, it would end in dot onion.
Why is Tor Slow?
Another potential downfall of using Tor you may run into is finding it hard to use sites that require a login. Many people report having difficulty using websites that require a username and password such as Facebook. There is no good reason to use Facebook through Tor since this activity defeats the purpose of staying anonymous.
Because of the way Tor hides your location, some features such as your local weather will not be accurate. Also, when you search for say a plumber on Google, it will not be able to recommend someone local to you. This is because they do not know where you are located.
In my opinion, this is a minor inconvenience. I would prefer privacy to localized information. Instead, I would just do a little more research like adding my location to my search parameters.
Is Tor Browser Safe?
Yes, I would say that overall Tor is safe. The reason I say it is safe is that it is the most secure process in place. While normal browsing is not the typical use of Tor, it is possible. There’s not as much need to be anonymous.
Also, remember that it is slower as previously stated. The biggest reason I believe Tor to be safe is because of the way they encrypt the data continuously as it passes through each relay. This makes it less likely the outside influences discover the data at any one point.
Finally, the way Tor chooses relays at random, makes it less likely that a specific or targeted piece of information can be intercepted.
The general concept behind Tor is safe and private. It is an open-source project. The administrators who currently operate the system welcome ethical hackers and other people who attempt to test its security. This makes Tor safer because nearly any system can potentially have vulnerabilities. It is only forward-thinking people who identify vulnerabilities in advance who can fix them before they become a serious liability.
There do exist some worst-case scenarios. Dangerous types of content exist within the project. People use it in ways they shouldn’t. Hackers use exploits through Tor because of the limitations of the government to track potential problems. Although some people believe the government uses it as a trap to catch criminals. You can read our article about the FBI using Tor as a honeypot here.
Some of these problems include viruses and malware. These exist on the regular web as well as the dark web where they may be even more common. The reason is because of less oversight or regulation. Also, there is also less likely the person spreading this malicious software would be caught due to the private nature of the system.
It is not possible to accidentally access the dark web. This is something that must be intentionally tracked down as there are purposeful steps that need to be taken in order to access it. With that in mind, ‘user beware’. Claiming ignorance to the information found will fall on deaf ears as this information needs to be sought after to find.
Is Tor Really Private?
The concept behind Tor is well thought out. The way they intend it to work should make it completely private. In practice, nothing is one hundred percent private. If you are wondering if your ISP can see what you visit, they can’t. They are simply handling information protected by encryption that is being sent to the next relay.
The ability of law enforcement to invade your privacy is limited. They suffer from an overall lack of training and awareness. Their focus is usually on more immediate offline threats such as theft and assault. There is also a general lack of time and priority devoted to pursuing anonymous browsers.
That is not to imply there have not been a handful of government raids. The FBI can use search warrants and malware to identify and locate Tor users. This has lead to conspiracy theories about government tracking.
Is Tor Illegal?
Tor is legal in the US. What becomes illegal is the content that is exchanged between the people using the system. For example, Facebook is a social networking site that everyone understands as legal.
However, if you use it to send pictures or information that is illegal, in and of itself, that activity would be illegal. And just for argument’s sake, it would be illegal to simply browse illegal content even if you do not download or share it further.
There is a social and mental aspect of Tor. Many young people are drawn to Tor because of its anti-authority and privacy leanings. Because they are more likely to use the system, they are also more likely to be exposed to the information it contains. Much of the content on the dark web should not ideally be viewed by the younger generation, or people that it may disturb.
For example, there are restrictions on what kind of movies you can watch based on your age. This is done for their welfare and the content on Tor is no exception. Exposure to shocking information can have a negative impact on them.
To recap, Tor is legal. It is how it is used and the information shared that can be illegal. You can safely use Tor to perform normal browsing that you would otherwise do with other browsers such as Internet Explorer or Firefox.
The real question becomes why you would want to do this. The use of Tor is not beneficial in these situations. It is also slower and there is no real need to remain anonymous.
What I recommend is that you do research if you are interested in the dark web. Most people do not have a need to access Tor in order to understand it. Hopefully, with this article, you have a better understanding of what it is. And if you plan on using it, I hope that you now know what to expect.
Please check out our article on Hacking Video Games if that kind of thing interests you.