Anonymous internet browsing is a dream for many, but it is unreachable. Regardless of the technologies you use, if you're connected to the internet, it is still possible to trace you with enough effort. Even with this, using specific tools makes it so complicated that most won't even bother to attempt snooping on your browsing data. One such tool is the Tor network.
What is TOR? [Definition]
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 anyone to use the web without being tracked down.
To solve this problem, a browser known as TOR was created. The TOR project, or The Onion Router, is a browser that helps you use the web anonymously.
Tor browser uses multiple IP addresses, making tracking a user very difficult. Using the Tor web browser, we will restrict the ISP from tracking the websites we visited, including the names and addresses of the website. Moreover, we will limit the website operators we see 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 reaching the destination website. The Tor onion browser 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 node 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 the Tor browser online. 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 with a different IP address, and 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 the online Tor browser 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 worldwide in different countries and routes boxes of a user using routers in other countries rather than the user's home country to make things more secure.
Overall, 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 some caveats that we will talk about below briefly.
Loopholes & Downsides in Tor Browser
There are mainly three downsides to Tor:
- It is slow. This is because of the long relay path, 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 advisable.
- Tor can tempt one to get deep into the dark web, corrupting a person or targeting malicious scams and 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, the connection leaves the Tor network at the exit node to enter the destination site. The link 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 person's searches, the sites they visit, or the message they send. Your IP address won't be visible, but you can just be tracked down through the activities.
Now the question is how to overcome this. The solution is to provide an HTTPS connection to encrypt your traffic from the exit node to the site. If your destination offers an HTTP connection, 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, using an HTTPS connection is advisable so 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 of 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 wide, it's either Linux or Mac OS X. Any other thickness denotes Linux.
Using TOR, you must be very conscious of 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 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
These operating systems don't need to be installed and can run directly from a live disc (CD/USB). Once the device is removed, it removes all the data of your activities or the operating system you use. 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. Adding more layers makes it more secure, but they need to remember that Internet Service Providers can block VPNs if they want to. It has been done in many countries. So it is preferred not to use VPN while using the Tor browser.
The debate on Tor vs VPN is that these are different. As mentioned earlier, A VPN is like an additional layer for 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 with 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 IP address. In 2011, a group of researchers acquired the IP addresses of 10,000 people using BitTorrent clients through Tor.
How do you think you could use the Tor browser?
This section will review the steps to install and use the Tor browser.
- Download and install the tor browser from the official website (Tor download).
- Once the installation is finished, click Connect and wait for the browser to connect to the Tor network.
- Done! You're ready to use the Tor network! The interface is similar to the Firefox web browser.
Note that you can use the Tor browser to access the dark web. The dark web is similar to the deep web, but accessing it s a bit trickier and requires a specific browser like Tor.
Conclusion: Can Tor make you invisible?
Tor browser benefits 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 pros and cons, and thus has the onion router; the government uses it 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; thus, the Tor browser is also not 100% guaranteed. Tor is not a magical solution to make you invisible on the web, but it can be used cleverly to make it more useful. We can increase security by being conscious and following the above suggestions.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the tor browser?
The Tor (the onion routing) browser is designed for anonymous web surfing and protection against traffic analysis.
2. What is the Onion Router?
Onion Router, also known as Tor browser, is a web browser that is designed for surfing the web anonymously and protecting traffic.
3. What is the Tor network used for?
Tor network was designed for anonymous web browsing and protection against traffic analysis.
4. Who runs the Tor network?
The Tor Project, Inc. is a research-education nonprofit organization founded by computer scientists Roger Dingledine, Nick Mathewson, and five others. Source: Wikipedia
5. Does Tor hide your IP?
Yes. Tor is a free web browser you can install on your computer, which hides your IP address every time you use the internet.
6. Is Tor owned by the CIA?
The CIA does not own Tor. However, it was created by the United States Naval Research Laboratory in the mid-1990s to protect American intelligence communications online.
7. How does Tor make money?
Tor is funded by numerous sponsors, including private foundations, individuals, and US federal agencies.
8. Is Tor monitored by the government?
Governments around the world do control/own many Tor exit nodes. This provides them with some level of tracking. Tracking via the Tor network requires a lot of time and labor, and you would need to be a high-value target to go under the radar.
9. Can the NSA track Tor?
Yes. NSA owns 90% of the nodes on the Tor network.
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