Anonymous internet browsing is a dream for many but, unfortunately, is unreachable. Regardless of the technologies you use, if you’re connected to the internet, with enough effort, it is still possible to trace you. Nonetheless, by using certain tools, you can make it so difficult that most won’t even bother to attempt snooping on your browsing data. One such tool is the Tor network.
What is a TOR?
Our IP address can trace anything we do online. The ISP (Internet Service Provider) can also see the encrypted website you visit. Moreover, the websites you visit can also track your IP address. So, it becomes tough for users such as activists, whistle-blowers, or any individual to use the web without being tracked down.
To solve this problem, a browser known as TOR was created. TOR or The Onion Router is a browser that helps you use the web anonymously.
Tor browser uses multiple IP addresses, which makes it very difficult to track a user. By using Tor, we will restrict our Internet Service Provider to track the website we visited, including the names and addresses of the website. Moreover, we will restrict the website operators that we visit from knowing our IP addresses.
How Does Tor Work?
As the name suggests, Tor works on the concept of layers of onions. It bounces the data packets on multiple IP addresses before finally reaching the destination website. The Tor relays or nodes receive and pass the traffic on the Tor network.
There are three relays:
- Bridges- This node or relay collects the encrypted data. It is an alternative entry point in the Tor network.
- Middle Relays- As the name suggests, the middle relay lies between bridges and exit nodes or relays.
- Exit Node- This is the node that is connected to the destination website. The IP address in the exit node is visible to the website owners.
Consider a situation of searching YouTube on Tor Browser. When we search, the data in the encrypted form will enter the Bridge having its IP address. Our Internet Service Provider cannot track us; after that, it will enter the middle layer having another IP address.
It will enter an exit node having a different IP address, and then finally, it will enter the destination website.
The YouTube owner can only see the IP address of the exit node. The exit nodes pass the traffic back through the nodes without knowing where to end, thus making YouTube very difficult to track and invisible.
The Ultimate effect
The result of the above is that a user using Tor becomes invisible on the internet. It is challenging to perform any meaningful traffic analysis on a packet captured from the Tor network since it neither reveals the user's IP nor geographical location. Tor uses routers placed across the world in different countries and routes packets of a user using routers in different countries rather than the user's home country to make things more secure.
On the whole, Tor is an efficient solution to cover your track and browse the internet safely. So, the answer to our primary question of whether Tor can make me invisible is a big 'YES.' Many people around the globe are doing so. But of course, there are caveats which we will touch upon below briefly.
Loopholes & Downsides in Tor Browser
There are mainly three downsides to Tor:
- It is slow. The reason behind this is- the long relay path and the overhead of multiple rounds of encryption at the client end, and decryption at every router along the way. Tor can be tedious, and downloading a large file, especially media files, is not at all advisable.
- Tor can tempt one to get deep into the dark web, which can corrupt a person or target malicious scams and/or attacks.
- Some websites block traffic from the Tor network or present the user with challenge-response tests like a captcha before allowing access. Google is one such website that uses captcha verification for Tor.
Loopholes that might track you down:
As mentioned earlier, the connection leaves the Tor network at the exit node to enter the destination site. The connection from the exit node to the destination site is not in the Tor network. Suppose a person accesses an unencrypted website through Tor. In that case, the website owner can monitor all the internet activities, whether it be the searches the person performs, the sites they visit, or the message they send. Your IP address will not be visible, but you can be tracked down through the activities.
Now the question is how to overcome this. The solution is that you should provide an HTTPS connection so that your traffic from the exit node to the site is encrypted. If your destination provides an HTTP connection, your traffic from the exit node to the site is not encrypted.
Thus any attacker or adversary intercepting your unencrypted traffic can read the content (e.g., passwords, account numbers, etc.) because it is unencrypted clear text. So, it is advisable to use an HTTPS connection so that TOR can make you invisible.
It is another way in which you can be traced. The thickness of the scroll bar can be found by subtracting the Viewport from the Window size. Different operating systems and desktops use different default thicknesses. Following is the default thickness of some of the popular browsers.
- The thickness of the TOR-Browser on MacOS 10.11 is 15 pixels.
- The thickness of the TOR-Browser on Windows 7/8/10 is 17 pixels.
- The thickness of the TOR-Browser on Linux uses scrollbars that are 10-16 pixels.
If a person can detect the TOR-Browser and the scrollbars are 17 pixels thick, it's the TOR-Browser on Windows. If the scrollbars are 15 pixels thick, it's either Linux or Mac OS X., And any other thickness denotes Linux.
If you are using TOR, you must be very conscious about your privacy. For this reason, you should not use MAC OS or Windows. Linux is preferred as it balances security, privacy, and ease of use. But if you want to protect your privacy to another level, you can use the following operating system.
- Linux Kodachi
- Subgraph OS
- Kali Linux
- Mofo Linux
- Parrot Security OS
Mostly these operating systems don't need to be installed, and they can run directly from a live disc (CD/USB). Once the device is removed, it removes all the data of the activities you conducted or the operating system you used. They also have apps for emailing, messaging, and storing cryptocurrencies. Hence overall providing a more secure environment. Isolation, compartmentalization. Follow this to be invisible using Tor.
To avoid it, you should stick to the bundles provided by Tor Browser and should not change the configurations.
Some people also add an extra layer of VPN before using the Tor browser. They think that adding more layers makes it more secure, but they forget that Internet Service Providers can block VPN if they want to. It has been done in many countries. So it is preferred not to use VPN while using the Tor browser.
Time spent on Tor is traceable
Your Internet Service Provider cannot track you, but they can see how many hours you use Tor Browser, thus decreasing your privacy by a bit.
Incidents that show that Tor does not make you invisible:
Some incidents from the past show that Tor cannot make you invisible. These incidents are genuine and have been published.
In 2007 a security researcher aborted thousands of emails sent by human rights groups and foreign embassies worldwide by turning portions of the Top browser service into his private listening post.
A man in Austria was charged for distributing child pornography on the Tor browser by anonymously routing a tremendous amount of traffic over the internet. He was caught when police detected illegal images traversing one of the nodes he maintains.
Like many other types of applications, the client of BitTorrent is insecure and capable of exposing your actual IP address. In 2011, a group of researchers acquired the IP addresses of 10,000 people using BitTorrent clients through Tor.
Can Tor make you invisible?
Tor browser is beneficial for activists, whistle-blowers, and individuals who think about their privacy. Tor browser layered protection is very much helpful and has been helping many individuals. Everything has its pros and cons, and thus has Tor; it is used by the government for military services and illegal stuff.
Like every system has some loopholes, Tor also has some of them. After reading this much, you must have learned how you are not fully protected from being traced. Nothing on the internet is 100% secured, and thus Tor browser is also not 100% secured. Tor is not a magical solution to make you invisible on the web but can be used cleverly to make it more useful. We can increase security by being conscious and following the above suggestions.
Do you value your privacy online?
Use VPN Surf and surf safely and securely in the open waters of the internet.