Web browsing has become more and more dangerous to user privacy. The regular internet connections are highly vulnerable to hacking, malware attack, and government surveillance. Your privacy and anonymity is not guaranteed online. You could easily lose your credit card information, expose your home address, and even have the websites you visit tracked without consent when online. Therefore, if you want to protect your privacy and sensitive information, you must use a secure network.
The internet is a public network. Not everyone has the expertise or skill to develop a secure network by themselves. Therefore, regular internet users have two options when it comes to protecting their anonymity and staying secure online: Tor and VPN. Both offer secure network connections to users who wish to remain untraceable and protected online. This article will explain what Tor and VPN are, how they can protect your anonymity, and which is the best of the two.
What is Tor?
Tor is not as well-known as VPN, but has been rising in popularity in recent times. (Tor even got a mention in House of Cards!)
Tor is actually an acronym that stands for The Onion Router. Basically, Tor is a method to send information guaranteeing anonymity over a network of computers. The information sent using Tor technique is layered, like an onion; hence the name. The Tor network has to decrypt each of these layers to reveal the final destination where the data is supposed to be. Because Tor information is encrypted in this layered manner, the sender using Tor can remain in complete anonymity.
Tor was initially developed to keep U.S. naval intelligence encrypted and unreadable to the enemy, ensuring anonymity. The predecessor to the commercial Tor available today was designed in the 1990s by three computer scientists working for the United States Naval Research Laboratory. Tor has since become a public non-profit funded by various organizations, including the U.S. government.
To better understand how Tor works, let’s say you want to send a message. Instead of sending it directly, you wrap it up in sheets, so the message remains hidden in the middle. Each sheet can only be unwrapped using a key. So, you give this wrapped message to person A, who has a key to unwrap the outermost layer. Once the outermost layer is off, a second destination, B, will be revealed to person A. Person A gives the key to person B, who uses a different key to unwrap the second layer, so the third destination, C, will be revealed. This continues until the message is transferred from A to Z. Now, when the message arrives at the final destination, Z, it can be completely unwrapped. However, Z will never know who sent the message. Person A will only know you, the sender, as just another key holder in the network. Your anonymity is never compromised. This is how Tor works in simple terms.
Tor is a complicated technique, but just about anyone with basic computer skills can use Tor. You can use Tor to access sites without revealing your original IP address, send emails or chat messages in anonymity, and browse the web without having to worry about anyone tracing you. Tor is a good choice if you are an investigative journalist, for example. Tor can be useful to business users as well.
What is VPN?
VPN stands for virtual private network. The keyword here is virtual. The internet is a giant network of various computers, server, and other devices connected together with wires. This network is physical. The VPN can connect to the server and other devices in the internet network as well, but not with actual wires. A VPN can dig tunnels in this physical network virtually. These tunnels are highly encrypted, so no third party can know what data is passing through them.
A VPN is secure, like a private network. The VPN technique was originally designed to protect corporate data as it was transmitted to remote servers. Now, there are a number of commercial companies selling VPN services to consumers such as yourself. When you purchase a VPN service, it can make sure that your data is transmitted in a secure manner. This level of network security is useful when you access the internet using public Wi-Fi, which is basically a playground for hackers. Your anonymity is important to keep hackers at bay.
Commercial VPN service providers offer connections that you can rely on to keep your data and identity safe. A VPN service can mask your original IP address, which ensures anonymity. Also, when your original IP is masked, you can easily bypass country blocks on certain sites, like Netflix. VPN service providers offer access to many a server located worldwide. So you can choose a server from any country you like to access content without encountering blocks.
Pros and Cons
- Tor can assure your anonymity when you connect to the internet. No one will know your real IP address with Tor.
- You can browse the web, send e-mails, chat, or download content anonymously using Tor.
- Tor cannot offer you 100% protection. A highly sophisticated hacker can still trace your online presence even when you have Tor.
- Tor is data-heavy. Expect your bandwidth to suffer when you have Tor.
- Tor can slow down computers.
- Spies can still observe your traffic passing through Tor.
- Governments are more likely to monitor Tor connections.
- VPN is very easy to use, convenient, and cheap thanks to advancing commercial VPN software.
- They offer highly secure connections that can protect against a hacking attack, data theft, or government surveillance.
- VPN software is available on smartphones and gaming devices as well.
- A VPN server keeps no user logs. So even if a government subpoenas the service provider, the VPN company will have no record to show.
- Additional security such as malware protection is offered with VPN software.
- A VPN cannot make connections completely anonymous.
- Some VPN service providers, especially certain free packages, may monitor user traffic without consent.
- Some countries, like China, specifically ban VPN access.
Which is Better: Tor or VPN?
Both VPN and Tor have their users. For private and business users, VPN is the best solution. There are a number of reasons. Tor is really only good at keeping connections in as much anonymity as possible. A VPN service can make network connections secure as well. Modern internet users have to fight off malware, hackers, government snooping agents, and other unsavory actors. Only VPN service offers protection against all such parties. Tor is unable to do so at the moment. Also, users can use a VPN on their phones, tablets, or gaming devices. Tor is largely used on computers. Tor can seriously make computers lag, especially if a user is downloading or streaming videos.
Tor may not be entirely safe from spies and government snooping. As Tor was originally developed by the U.S. government, authorities are known to keep an eye on Tor users and traffic. Therefore, Tor security can be compromised in this manner. One big flaw of Tor software is that Tor can easily eat up bandwidth. It is a fact that many Tor users are frustrated with. If you are a downloader or a heavy streamer, Tor does not come highly recommended.
Some users may consider using Tor and VPN at the same time. For example, if you want to send a highly secure email anonymously, you can use Tor. Then, when you want to watch an online video, you can use a VPN. However, there are certain VPN packages that offer extra encryption tools to send anonymous messages and other communication. If you desire anonymity as well as security, you can save money by purchasing a VPN service with additional features. Tor, in this regard, is not as useful as a VPN.
Which VPN Service is the Best?
If you want to buy a VPN, it can be quite hard to determine which one is the best. There are numerous VPN options available. Obviously not all are great. As a rule of thumb, don’t rely on free VPN services. Free VPN packages may monitor your traffic without you knowing, and are not as secure as claimed. Stick to the VPN services that are well reviewed. You can easily search for VPN services online. You should choose a package with a large number of servers, because it will give you more access to bypass geo-blocks. Read about additional features VPN services offer, such as malware protection, simultaneous logins, multi-device compatibility, and extra firewall protection. You should consider your needs as a web user as well. If you prefer anonymity, you can use a VPN known for that, such as IPVanish. If you want unlimited bandwidth and speed for streaming, you can use a VPN service like ExpressVPN. (These are only examples of VPN providers, not endorsements.) Assess your needs, like anonymity, all the features on offer, and the price. Once you do, you will be able to choose the VPN that is best suited for you.