The Onion Router — better known as Tor is a non-profit organization that develops online privacy tools and constantly researches new solutions for privacy online. Specifically Tor is a browser that anyone can download for free on Linux, Windows, Mac and mobile devices.
Main purpose behind Tor is to provide users with a browser that helps them surf the web anonymously and protect their online identities. When you are using Tor browser all the traffic goes through encryption, which helps you keep your activities private. Also Tor is the only way you can enter the Dark Web.
It is hard to explain how the Tor browser works so I will put it into simple words: Tor works by sending your data across many Tor servers, the role of every server is to move your data to another server by constantly changing your IP address until the exit node is reached. When your data reaches the final destination it is encrypted by many layers and cannot be traced back to you.
Tor servers depends on the volunteer network of computers which are operated by individuals and companies across the world. The security and pool of servers in Tor Network relies on the number of volunteers that share their servers.
For many Tor browser is absolutely legal to use. On the other hand some countries do have restrictions on Tor browser and it is blocked by the authorities.
Why is Tor blocked in some countries? Tor browser often is related to criminal activities such as buying illegal stuff on the dark web. Also in some countries anonymity online is something the government doesn’t want for their people — a great example is China. China is known to be one of the most restrictive country internet wise. There is such thing called The Great Firewall of China which basically limits its citizens visiting specific sites or even using social media websites such as Facebook. All is done by the government who is in need to control their citizens online. Tor is also blocked in such countries as Russia or Saudi Arabia where same tendencies of internet censorship can be seen.
There are many controversies talking about Tor browser. On one hand people might be involved in illegal activity while using Tor browser, on the other hand it gives every person security online which is something we all want these days. Also Tor is especially crucial for journalists and whistleblowers who are in need of anonymous freedom of expression online and are in risk of being traced by whoever does not agree with their opinions.
Free. Tor browser is absolutely free for all the users worldwide and you can even make changes to their coding and customize it for yourself.
Easy to use. Tor browser works as a regular browser so it is really easy to understand and use.
Privacy. Tor will encrypt your traffic and change your IP address making you anonymous and private online.
Geographical restrictions. By changing your IP address Tor will help you bypass some of the geographical restrictions that occur in your country. Although you will need to do some extra configurations if you want to connect to a specific countries IP address with Tor.
Slow. When you use Tor your traffic goes through many servers, although it adds many layers of security it also limits your internet speeds. This is especially noticeable when loading or downloading videos, photos and similar content.
Blocked websites. Many web services actually block access with Tor, when you visit them while being on Tor you might end up getting error messages or encounter a very irritating number of CAPTCHAS.
Legal issues. Although Tor itself is a legal browser to use in many countries, governments know about illegal activities that are being done using the Tor browser. The government cannot see what you are doing while connected to Tor browser since the traffic is encrypted, but they do see that you are connected to the Tor browser and this might raise them suspicion upon you and you can get monitored by the government.
Virtual Private Network better known as VPN has a big network of servers that belong to the VPN itself. When you use the VPN you connect to one of those servers that the VPN provider owns. When you go through the VPN server your traffic is being encrypted and your IP changes to the one of the chosen server. This means you become absolutely anonymous and secure online.
VPN is often used not only for security reasons but for bypassing geographical restrictions. Especially popular with such streaming platforms as Netflix.
Fast. VPN is much faster than Tor browser since it only goes through one server, not a layer of servers. The speed of your internet will even remain the same as before using VPN if you choose a VPN with fast servers.
Geographical restrictions. With the help of VPN you can easily bypass geographical restrictions online. With basically one click you can connect to any country and watch content that is available in that country but not in the one you are physically in.
Control. The difference between Tor and VPN is that with VPN you have absolute control over IP address locations. You can choose any location that you can find on the VPN app, this means if you need to be connected to the United States and have their IP address you can easily do so with a VPN. With Tor this is much harder to do and the poll of IP addresses always depends on people who are sharing their servers.
Security. Tor only encrypts your requests on the browser while VPN encrypts all of your traffic coming from your mobile or PC.
Money. Sadly premium VPNs cost money, There are many different providers at different costs though.There are also free options, but they usually collect logs.
Logs. Besides the free VPNs some paid VPNs do actually log their users data and can see what they are doing online. That is why you will need to do a little bit of research before purchasing VPN, there are many options out there, as for Tor there is only one of its kind.
Failures. Again it all depends on what VPN you will choose, but some VPNs have history of encountering data breaches, leaks and similar software failures that results in you not being absolutely secure.
Since Tor is only one of its kind, but there are many VPNs out there you will need to be careful and choose wisely to get the best option. Look for VPN that doesn’t collect logs, has fast servers worldwide, supports DNS leak protection, has built-in kill-switch. Also look at the history of the VPN you want to buy, if they were included in some shady activity, maybe they have been caught collecting logs and etc.
If we set aside the huge speed drop that you will encounter using both Tor and VPN, it actually has some advantages.
The main advantage of using both Tor and VPN can be seen when you need to go to the dark web. You will need to use Tor since it is the only way for you to reach the dark web. Also you will need to be using a VPN since it will encrypt your traffic before you enter and after you leave the Tor network. This will result in anyone (even the government) not knowing that you are using a Tor browser.
Although both Tor and VPN ensures privacy online, VPN is considered to be more secure since it encrypts all of your traffic on the computer, not just the requests on Tor browser. VPNs are also a better option for everyday use, since it doesn’t kill your internet speed so much. It would be really annoying to be on the Tor network all the time. Of course Tor doesn’t cost money and you can trust them since they are a non-profit organization that does everything because of the idea of safe internet and while choosing a VPN you will need to do your research and don’t go with the first one you see. And one last point — it is much easier to use VPN if you need to bypass geographical restrictions, since you can easily choose the location you need.
So for everyday use, security, streaming — choose VPN, but Tor will be necessary for you if you will need to enter the Dark Web and similar spaces.
Previously published at https://medium.com/@troutharry88/tor-vs-vpn-which-is-better-bdd098d2c852