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What Is Tor Browser and How to Use It

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Broadband privacy rules were created by the Federal Communications Commission which restricts internet service providers (ISPs) from collecting all their user’s information. Unfortunately, these rules have now been voted by the senate to be repealed. This means that ISPs can now collect personal information and sell these to the highest bidder, such as web browsing history, precise geolocation, medical records / health information, financial information (e.g. Bank account details), social security numbers, app usage history, and communication content (whether public or private).

 

Supposedly, the broadband privacy rules were created to require ISPs to ask for permission from its users before sharing the said information. However, this is no longer the case, because not only can the government can now view our online activities, but companies are now able to as well, using our browsing history to place ads and sell their products.

 

With this situation, services that hide a user’s browser history and online activities have been created and are being used widely today. Tor one of these services – it is a software that lets you browse the web anonymously. It was originally called The Onion Router because it uses the onion routing technique to hide a user’s activities. Tor was created by a nonprofit organization called the Tor Project, which advocates for internet privacy and anonymity.

 

How to Install Tor Browser

 

To use Tor browser, you may download their installer from their website. It is composed of a modified version of Firefox including other software that connects you to the Tor network. After downloading the installer, you may now install it on your computer. The Tor browser comes in a .exe file for Windows users and will use your desktop as an installation location.

The best thing about the Tor browser is that it is not similar to typical computer programs that integrate into the operating system – it is actually a portable software that you can take with you wherever you go and run it from any location in your computer.

 

How to Use Tor Browser

 

Once Tor browser has finished installing in the location that you chose, it will appear as a folder labeled as ‘Tor Browser’. Open the folder and click the ‘Start Tor Browser.exe’ file. A prompt will appear asking you if you want to connect to Tor immediately or if you want to configure the proxy settings first. Clicking ‘Connect’ will launch Firefox and you will now be automatically able to surf the web anonymously.

To check if you are now anonymous, you may go to whatismyip.com or any similar IP address-detecting website. If it says that you are in a location that is not your own, then the Tor browser is working perfectly.

However, there are rules that you should follow whenever you use Tor browser to make sure that it works smoothly. An example is to always connect to a site via SSL/TSL encryption, or a HTTPS site. Otherwise, all your activities will still be visible to anyone via your exit node. Anyway, Tor has a default HTTPS Everywhere add-on by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for this rule.

Using the Tor browser will not make you immune to viruses and malwares, so it’s better to put up extra protection for these kinds of attacks.

 

 

How Tor Browser Works

 

Onion routing works in two ways. The first one is that the Tor network is made up of people who use their computers as nodes. When you use Tor browser, your data packets will not normally be sent to the server. To effectively hide your location, Tor “creates a path through randomly assigned nodes” so that data packet will follow this path before reaching the server.

Another way that Tor works is because of onion routing and how the packets are constructed. Without Tor, data packets are simply bare for everyone to see, and sometimes wrapped in an encryption which are never enough. Using Tor browser enables the data packets to be encapsulated in layers and layers of encryption, just like an onion (hence, the name).

For detailed steps on how Tor works, Digital Trends explains the path traveled by data packets using Tor browser:

“When the user sends the packet, the top layer tells it to go to Router A, the first stop on the circuit. When it is there, Router A takes off the first layer. The next layer tells Router A to send the packet onward to Router B. Router A does not know the ultimate destination, only that the packet came from the user and went to B. Router B peels off the next layer, seeing that the next stop is Router C. The process continues until the message reaches its destination. At each stop, the node only knows the available information: the last place the packet was, and the next place it will be. No node knows the complete path, and neither would anyone who observes the message being sent from a node.”

 

Who Uses Tor Browser

 

Anyone who wants to protect their privacy while browsing the web and uphold their freedom of expression can use the Tor browser. It is also popular among people who want to access geo-restricted content such as journalists and activists. According to Digital Trends, Tor “provides a safe avenue to leak information to journalists. In fact, Edward Snowden released information on the NSA’s PRISM program to news organizations via Tor.”

However, Tor’s capability to anonymize any user has attracted criminals to conduct their fraudulent activities in the internet while hiding behind Tor browsers. This has created a bad reputation for Tor among the mainstream press, especially since the internet is a trove of dark networks. There are plenty of webpages (such as the now-defunct Silk Road) that sell illegal items in the deep web, and people believe that Tor is the gateway to these kinds of websites.

Digital Trends writes that “it is important to note that criminal activity on Tor is a consequence, not a goal, of the Project’s commitment to freedom of expression.”

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