Tor and VPN are both anonymity tools, so quite often people are led to ask which one they should choose for the best results. However, what most people do not realize is that the two tools need not be rivals. You could think of the situation in simple terms – for example, imagine a burger and fries.
Both are tasty on their own, but when they are put together they do the best job of satisfying your hunger. It is exactly the same with Top and VPN – while each has its merits, it is when they work in tandem that they are most effective.
Tor and VPN work towards the same goal – keeping your identity anonymous while keeping your data hidden from any “middlemen” who may be keeping a watchful eye over your network, but they go about it in very different ways. In fact, you can use a transportation analogy to explain the difference between the two tools. While VPN is very like an airplane, speedy but expensive, Tor can be compared to your local bus service, convenient, free but much slower to use.
When Should You Use Tor?
Tor is also known as the Onion Router because it uses many encryption layers and network relays to keep your identity a secret from any third parties.
It is important to note however that Tor does not encrypt your data, only your connection so it is actually possible for your data to be accessed in the circumstances that the exit node when you send plaintext information is decrypted.
If you are using Tor you should therefore always be certain to use an HTTPS connection in order to ensure that your data reaches the server safely and intercepted.
You should also never send any sensitive personal information without encryption, for example, your email address, phone number, or any other personal details. Information of that nature could be enough to make an identification.
There are several occasions when Tor might be used, whenever a high level of personal anonymity is required. It has been used in the past by whistleblowers who do not want to be identified by their organization, by people who are being stalked on the internet or who are receiving death threats, and by those who are under court surveillance.
Although Tor is not a complete solution to remaining anonymous on the internet, it does make it a lot more difficult to identify you.
While Tor is good at hiding your identity, unfortunately, it places a huge drain on your speed so if you are wanting to stream and download media, you will find that the data jumping through the relays will slow down your connection exponentially. Therefore, Tor is only recommended for static pages, if you want to use videos or download movie files, you should use VPN instead.
When Should You Use VPN?
VPN is essentially an encypted tunnel which allows your data to flow between your device and your server without any interruptions.
Its major benefit is that it can cope with high speeds and so is ideal when you want to cut back on buffering when streaming movies and music. You should note however that in this case too your data is not encrypted, only your connection, so if you are sending confidential data you should always use SSL protocol.
This is because VPN servers can accessed any traffic that you have initiated and even though they claim to keep no logs, you cannot be sure that they will keep them private in the event of a government enquiry.
If you want to keep yourself hidden while browsing the interet or downloading torrents, VPN is a good solution. VPN can also extend a company’s resources to a private individual in a remote location. VPN is no good however if you are in a high-risk situation, such as being accused of a crime.
VPN is particularly useful for hiding your geographical location in order to access services that are blocked in your area or access the internet when federal organizations have restricted public use.
How Does Tor Work?
Tor essentially obscures the user’s identity, protecting them from network spys or analysis of data traffic. This makes it possibly the most secure popular choice for retaining anonymity when using the internet.
Where Did Tor Come From?
In the 1990s, three men at the United States Naval Research Laboratory developed a principle called Onion Routing. On September 20, 2002, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson launched the TOR project which was the basis for further developments carried out by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Tor is currently maintained by a not for profit organization The Tor Project and is primarily funded by the US government together with several NGOs, sponsors and the Swedish government.
How Does The Onion Router Work?
Onion routing involves encrypting data and then transferring it through several relays within the Tor network. This creates many layers of encryption – hence the onion analogy, which works to keep the user’s identity private.
At every relay, a single layer is decrypted and all the remaining data will be sent to another random relay and so on until it finally gets to the destination server.
Once it reaches this server, the exit node will appear to be the data’s origin. This makes it incredibly difficult to discover the user or server’s identity.
Tor not only provides anonymity to individuals but it can also keep websites and servers anonymous too. Bittorrent and other P2P applications are able to be configured for this network in order to download torrents.
Is It Possible To Compromise Tor?
There have been some claims that Tor can be compromised, including most famously the Bad Apple Attack case where it was claimed some 10,000 Bittorrent users had been identified while using Tor.
In April 2014, the Heartbleed bug also compromised the Tor network and brought it to a halt for a number of days. You can read more about Heartbleed Bug here.
The Tor network can also be attacked by traffic fingerprinting. The exit point is what makes Tor particularly vulnerable as compared to the rest of the network, this point has poor security.
Which Products Are Based On Tor?
The Tor Browser has been released which is a modified version of the Mozilla Firefox browser. As it is portable it does not have to be installed, removing the risk of cookie tracking.
Orbot and Orfox are two other products which have been developed by The Guardian Project. SOCKS based applications can be set up to use the TOR network simply by configuring them using a loo-back address.
There are alternatives to Tor, including Hornet, which produces higher network speeds. There are also some other alternatives like Tails, I2P, Freepto, Freenet and SubGraphOS.
What Is A Virtual Private Network?
VPN, (Virtual Private Network) is a network created on the internet allowing any devices connected through it to have uninterrupted communication regardless of any digital or physical barriers.
How Does VPN Work?
Here are some of the protocols that you should understand in order to understand VPN.
SSL – This uses a clever 3-way-handshake using cryptography which ensures that there is proper authentication between server and client machines.
IP Security – working on either tunnelling or transport mode, this protocol secures the VPN connection. Which transport mode merely encrypts the payload, tunnelling encrypts all of the data.
PPTP – Connects a remotely located user to private servers in the VPN network using the tunnelling mode. As it is simple and low maintenance it is the most common choice of VPN protocol.
L2TP – Facilitating data transfers between two locations on the VPN network it is generally used together with IPSec protocol to make communication safer.
Now you are aware of the basic protocols involved in VPN networks, you need to know how they work. Imagine when you are using the internet that your data is flowing along with the data of countless other people down a long tube. Anybody trying to spy on your actions can find your data in the network, however when you use VPN you can visualise it as your own private inner tunnel which turns all your data into nonsense that cannot be understood by any spies.
The Three Phases Of Setting Up A VPN
Phase 1 – Authentication – Data is encapsulated with headers and other details added to confuse and hide the nature of the data packet. Once this is done your device contacts the VPN server which will ask for user credentials to decide on the user’s authenticity.
Phase 2 – Tunnelling – Now the imaginary tunnel is formed making a direct connection through the web through which you can send any data you like.
Phase 3 – Encryption – You can now send any information you like however you should note that being connected to a free VPN does not guarantee your information’s safety as other users are utilizing it too. This means that all data must be encrypted first so that nothing can be read should any spies try to read it.
So, for example, if you want to gain access to a website your computer must send an access request which will be received by the VPN server. The server will then send on your request to the server in its own name and will thereby receive the data from the website. Following this, the data gets sent back to your PC or device. This tricks the website into thinking the VPN server is, in fact, the user and your device cannot be discovered or identified as the user.
What Are The Uses Of VPN?
Remote User Access – A user who is outside the geographical location of their corporate network can gain access to the corporate network via a VPN. The VPN makes the user appear to be within the correct region to utilize the network just like a regular user inside the premises.
Site to site – A network environment can be created using VPN which allows users in company offices all over the world to access the same homogeneous system. This allows every employee regardless of location to share the same resources.
There are however other uses, including for example gaining access to websites and services which are restricted to certain locations. VPN also allows users to gain access to censored content or to simply prevent others from identifying them.
Advantages and Disadvantages of VPN
There are several advantages of using VPN, not the least being it cost-effectiveness. It can easily create one private network instead of adopting a number of leased lines which can prove very expensive for large companies with several geographical locations. An uninterrupted VPN connection allows seamless internet access.
There are, however, downsides to using VPN networks. One major issue is that there is no effective procedure for ensuring quality of service (QoS) across the internet. Also, VPN technology can have no effect on any security levels or authenticity that is outside its private network. There is also incompatibility between various vendors and this only adds to the disadvantages of using VPN.
Well Known VPN Services
There are several providers who are particularly well known for their excellent quality of service and high levels of anonymity via their VPN servers. The three most famous are IPVanish, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, PureVPN, however, all four of these major players in the market can cost you a fair amount of money for the privilege of keeping your data anonymous if you don’t use vpn coupons.
For those who would prefer to keep their identity a secret while on a budget, there are several free VPN services which you can take advantage of however these do not have the same level of services available as the fee-paying providers. They are also not as good all round as the fee charging suppliers. Nevertheless, you should weigh up these disadvantages over the fact that services like Tunnel Bear, Surf Easy and Cyber Ghost are free to use.
If you want to share confidential information over the internet VPN is an excellent way to maintain high levels of anonymity and security. Even large corporate firms are impressed by the uniformity and ease they can achieve across their network by using VPN. In summary, VPN does have some limitations, however, at present it is a cost-effective and high performing solution to keeping your online identity private.