Tor or VPN? The truth is, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. And since you care about your privacy and security, I will give you a basic understanding of how each of these tools works and the specific jobs they’re built for.
Is your reason for using this privacy technology to avoid getting in trouble? If the answer’s yes, then Tor is probably your best option.
If your answer is no, then VPN might be recommended. And when I say trouble, I’m not talking about illegal activity. I’m referring to dissonance in places like China or Russia, fearing political backlash to journalists looking to protect their sources or whistle blowers hoping to protect themselves.
Because as an average internet user, you must be honest with yourself here.
Proper security and anonymity are only possible if you abandon the internet altogether. So everything else is best measured, not in binary terms. Yes, this is private; no, this is not private but measured in degrees of strength. And that’s why a nuanced answer is necessary when comparing Tor versus VPN.
Also known as The Onion Router, it takes its name from how it transmits data in layers. It takes your data, including identifiable information such as your IP address. And it wraps it up in multi-layered encryption and sends it through a network of randomly selected relay servers.
They only know their small portion of the journey rather than the entire entry-to-exit transfer. Let me give you another simplified example to help you explain this better. Imagine I want to send my parents a top-secret message without them knowing I sent it. I wrap this message in an envelope and address it to my friend, but I don’t put my return address on it.
So when I give this envelope to the mailman, he still determines where the letter will end up.
He knows to deliver it to my friend. When my friend receives the letter, he must find out where it came from since it has no return address. All he knows is that when he opens it up, there are instructions to give it to my parents.
And finally, when my parents received this message, all they know is that it came from my friend. Still, they will need to get information as to the origin of the message. That, in simple terms, is Tor.
This approach provides a lot of anonymity, and it’s the best option for those genuinely concerned about somebody following their internet traffic, but Tor has weaknesses.
First of all, it could be faster. And that makes sense if you consider all that’s happening with the data when it passes through the Tor network. So if you want to stream video content online, download large files, or do anything other than basic internet browsing or messaging, Tor will be frustrating for you to use.
Second, because the Tor project publishes the complete list of exit nodes, there are a lot of online services that either block access to their website for anybody that comes from one of these exit nodes or force repeated security challenges such as Capture and other measures.
This means that when you’re using Tor, instead of having more accessible access to the internet, you might find yourself a bit more restricted.
Third, for the average internet user, the only way to access the Tor network is via the Tor browser. This means that any other app or data transfer on your device that doesn’t go through that browser also does not receive the privacy benefits of the Tor network. A system-wide or device-wide Tor connection is possible, but it will not be easy for you, the average person, to set up.
And there are still ways to pierce the veil of anonymity in Tor. Over the years, various security consultants and researchers have claimed ways to compromise the integrity of the Tor network. Unless your communications are high value, it’s unlikely anybody would make an effort to do this. The more likely scenario is that you compromise yourself by sending along identifiable data, almost as if I had signed the letter to my parents. It completely defeats the purpose of sending an anonymous message in the first place.
Tor is free, which is a bonus. Still, this reliance on volunteers is precisely why the network has grown slowly over the past decade.
And it raises legitimate concerns about who owns these nodes and why they’re willing to absorb the costs of running them for free.
How does this compare with a Virtual Private Network or a VPN? Well, VPN wasn’t designed to be a privacy tool. It was initially designed to connect securely to a remote server.
Companies often use this to allow remote employees or offices to plug into the primary company network. But the idea has since grown to include individuals like you and me who want to hide our IP address or connect to the internet from a different geolocation. And that’s what a VPN does best, hiding your IP address and changing your perceived location.
An additional layer of encryption happens between you and that VPN server you connect to, but once your internet traffic leaves that VPN server, the encryption is also gone.
So take that for what it’s worth. And this is why it bothers me that so much of the VPN industry and many of the influencers and content creators who make money here tend to promote privacy and security as the primary selling points of a VPN.
Unlike Tor, a VPN lets you quickly choose your exit node, which is better when streaming this blocked content. It’s also significantly faster for streaming content and easier to use, not just for your browser but for your entire internet connection on your device. And on the one hand, VPN encryption is complicated to break, but on the other hand, as I’ve talked about before on this channel, using the commercial VPN is simply a shift of your trust away from your internet service provider and into the hands of a VPN company.
Most VPN companies seek to earn that trust through independent audits and no logs claims. But the truth is that the promise is just that, it’s a promise, and there’s always a risk that it could be broken.
If your data is dangerous, Tor is your best option.
A VPN does everything you need and is better for everything else. But hold on, and it’s important to note that these aren’t your only tools. There are many, many more ways to do this. Still, I want to highlight two variations of these privacy tools that build on the strengths of each and minimize their weaknesses. First, here’s what’s known as Tor over VPN, also called Onion over VPN, where you connect to a VPN first and then access the Tor network from there.
It hides the fact that you’re using Tor, and it prevents any of the Tor nodes from seeing your home IP address if that matters to you for some reason.
The other option I like more is a decentralized VPN or DVPN for short.
This fascinating new technology combines the speed and control of a VPN with the privacy and de-centralization of Tor. A network of volunteer nodes also runs it. Still, since they get paid for the bandwidth they provide using crypto, there’s an understandable incentive for the growth of the network.
Top VPN Softwares
- Express VPN
- Nord VPN
- CyberGhost VPN
- Surfshark VPN
- Private Internet Access VPN
- Hotspot Shield VPN
- Proton VPN
- Windscribe VPN
- TunnelBear VPN
- Vypr VPN
This VPN software offers various features, such as fast connection speeds, robust security, multiple device support, and access to many servers in different locations. When choosing a VPN software, you must consider your specific needs and priorities, such as whether you need to access geo-restricted content, prioritize speed over security, or want a VPN with a no-logging policy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Tor better than VPN?
Tor and VPN offer different benefits and drawbacks depending on what you need. Tor offers a higher level of anonymity by routing your internet traffic through multiple servers, making it much more difficult to trace your online activity. However, this added security comes at the cost of slower speeds and less functionality, making Tor less practical for everyday browsing. On the other hand, VPNs are generally faster and easier to use, making them a good option for everyday browsing, streaming, or accessing geo-restricted content. They offer more robust security and privacy than regular internet connections, although they may not be as anonymous as Tor. Ultimately, the choice between Tor and VPN depends on your needs and priorities.
Is Tor safer with VPN?
Using a VPN with Tor can offer an extra layer of security, as it can help to hide the fact that you are using Tor from your internet service provider (ISP) or network administrator. However, using a Tor VPN is unnecessary for most users and can slow down your connection even further.
Is Tor completely anonymous?
While Tor offers more anonymity than regular internet connections, it is not entirely anonymous. Tor can help to hide your IP address and encrypt your traffic, making it more difficult to trace your online activity. However, there are still ways that your activity can be monitored or traced, such as through browser fingerprinting or malware.
Is Tor a VPN?
No, Tor is not a VPN. Tor is a free and open-source software that enables anonymous communication by routing your internet traffic through multiple servers to conceal your identity and location. A VPN, on the other hand, is a private network that encrypts your internet traffic and routes it through a remote server to protect your privacy and security.
Why is Tor slower than VPN?
Tor is slower than VPN because it routes your internet traffic through multiple servers, which can slow down your connection. Additionally, Tor is designed to prioritize anonymity over speed, which means it may not be the best option for tasks requiring fast, reliable connections.
Why do people use Tor?
People use Tor for various reasons, including protecting their privacy and anonymity online, accessing censored or blocked content, and communicating securely with others. Tor can benefit activists, journalists, and others who face online surveillance or censorship.
Is Tor the dark web?
No, Tor is not the dark web. Tor is a free and open-source software that enables anonymous communication by routing your internet traffic through multiple servers to conceal your identity and location. The dark web refers to websites and online services intentionally hidden. It can only be accessed using special software or configurations like Tor or I2P.
Why do hackers use Tor?
Some hackers use Tor to conceal their identity and location while committing illegal activities such as hacking or distributing malware. However, it’s important to note that not all Tor users are hackers. Many people use Tor for legitimate reasons, such as protecting their privacy and online security.
Does Tor leave anything on your computer?
When you use Tor, your internet traffic is encrypted and routed through multiple servers to protect your privacy and security. However, Tor creates a temporary file called the Tor circuit, which can track your online activity. Clearing your browser’s cookies and cache regularly is essential to prevent this.
Is it illegal to access the dark web using Tor?
Accessing the dark web using Tor is not illegal in itself. However, many illegal activities occur on the dark web, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and illegal weapons sales. Using caution and following the law when accessing the dark web is essential.
In conclusion, VPNs and Tor offer different benefits and drawbacks depending on your needs. VPNs are generally faster and easier to use, making them a good option for browsing, streaming, or accessing geo-restricted content. They offer more robust security and privacy than regular internet connections, although they may not be as anonymous as Tor.
Conversely, Tor offers a higher level of anonymity by routing your internet traffic through multiple servers, making it much more difficult to trace your online activity. However, this added security comes at the cost of slower speeds and less functionality, making Tor less practical for everyday browsing. Ultimately, the choice between VPNs and Tor depends on your individual needs and priorities, and it’s essential to consider both options carefully before deciding.
Alby Abraham is an technology enthusiast, published blogger, and a content marketer who spends his time on building a career in the digital marketing industry. He also writes a blog on The Last Words for tech lovers.