Tor is a network that protects your privacy and security through virtual tunnels. These secure virtual tunnels and the network formed protect your online privacy and ensure anonymity. Previously known as the Onion Router, Tor ensures your confidentiality; and the best part – it is free.
Despite of privacy and security, Tor allows you to bypass censorship and geo-restrictions; and enables you to access divergent content of your choice. Tor offers a free of cost worldwide network comprising 5000+ relays to hide your location and make you undiscoverable. This allows you to flee from the hassle of online surveillance without even paying a single for it.
Any online activity you pursue (browsing, sharing, posting and communicating), your privacy is ensured by Tor. Many of you have might not heard of this before. Some might wonder if Tor is appropriate for the use. In this article, we will provide significant information about Tor in order to facilitate your decision.
What is Tor
Tor is a free application allowing its users to enjoy online liberty and anonymity. Tor secures your online activities by tunneling all the traffic through virtual network. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes it does; it sounds just like a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Yet, there is substantial difference between Tor and VPN which we will elaborate in our upcoming posts.
Tor operates through several nodes and users connected to it benefit from absolute anonymity because their signals are routed multiple nodes. Since your signal is routed through a sophisticated path, any platform you access or online activity you perform; no one will be able to track you.
In order to track your IP or activity, that person will have to explore the entire path through which your signal travelled until it reached the platform you wanted to access. This is quite a tough job for even a pro-hacker. Hence, it can be said that Tor is one of the systems through which you can liberate your online freedom and protect your identity.
History of Tor’s Inception
Tor was originated by the US Naval Forces. From the designing till the phase of implementation, Tor was a project representing the US Naval Research Laboratory’s 3rd generation onion routing system. The core reason behind the inception of Tor was to improve the communication process. Yes! Tor was initially designed to protect and keep secret governmental communications. Tor might be used for diverse reasons today; but, the core reason justifying the existence of Tor was security of government communication.
How it Works
The users preferring Tor as a promoter of their online liberty and protector of their anonymity are benefited in several ways. Tor just like a VPN operates through a virtual network; however, there is a slight difference between their processes. When a user connects Tor on a device it is compatible with, the signal sent from user’s device is routed through a network as we prescribed above.
This network is comprised of multiple nodes. When the device sends the signal/request to access a particular website or perform any other online activity for that matter, Tor carries that signal through multiple random nodes. The data is encrypted every time is travels from one node to another in order to ensure the security.
Each node is familiar with the preceding node (sender of the signal) and the following node (receiver of the signal). However, the node’s role ends here as it doesn’t know which node will receive the signal from the one it sent the signal. So, a node’s concern is bound to preceding and following nodes excluding all others that comprise the entire path.
That is not all. Tor takes its security to a whole new level and strengthens it even more by resetting the relay circuits. The reset is totally random and takes place after every 10 minutes. The purpose of this reset is to eliminate the tracks of previous patterns followed by nodes. The systematic design through which the entire circuit operates faces a reset after every 10 minutes so that the pattern in which the signal was sent and received earlier doesn’t repeat.
Therefore, even if someone is able to identify the pattern followed by the nodes and tries to exploit this pattern in order to access the data, he will be severely disappointed as the pattern would not be the same anymore.
The presence of volunteers although is of significant importance when it comes to Tor. In a virtual network created by Tor to route the signals sent by the users, number of volunteers does matter. It is the volunteers that strengthen the security of the network by making it as much complex as possible.
In a Tor enabled network, each volunteer represents a node; more volunteers means more nodes; more nodes means more random movement of the signal through the circuit. This is what makes Tor stronger; this is what makes it weaker. A network with a few number of volunteers is as good as nothing; whereas, the network with numerous volunteers can be a pain in the a** to hackers.
Advantages of Tor
Tor is a free application. This is first and the most significant advantage of Tor that can surely tempt most of privacy conscious people reading this.
Tor creates a sophisticated network to facilitate your privacy. The network comprises different nodes among which the signal sent from the user randomly travels – making it impossible for anyone to track the sender of information.
Tor routes your access requests through a complicated network; hence, your IP address can’t be traced or your location for that matter.
Tor represents an extensively distributed network; therefore, any authoritarian institution or governmental body for that matter can’t cease it.
Disadvantages of Tor
The first disadvantage associated with Tor is its origin. Tor was originated by US Naval Forces; hence, one may doubt that it can serve as yet another backdoor to the NSA.
There are some Internet Service Providers that block requests transferred through Tor relays. The Great Firewall of China in this regard is on top of the list. China has completely blocked Tor relays along with other pro-censorship countries. Hence, users’ request sent via Tor to access a different websites or any other content is not entertained.
Another disadvantage of Tor is the sluggishness of the process. Tor routes your access request through different relays. This slows the entire process and leads to delayed response to your request. Hence, for users that use applications and tools like Tor and VPN to bypass geo-restrictions; especially, for online streaming, Tor may not be a feasible choice for you.
A circuit created through Tor has a major flaw. It allows anyone to volunteer as an exit-node. Now think about it for a second. What if the exit-node of the network that carries your requests is a hacker; or what if the exit-node represents vigilant agencies such as the NSA or GCHQ? Anyone who volunteers as an exit-node can see all your traffic since the data travelling through Tor network is unencrypted.
Tor is an excellent application to use for those who are concerned about online privacy and security. With no cost associated, Tor can certainly tempt most of the users and serve as their preferable choice of tool when it comes to online privacy and security. There are different advantages of using Tor that ensure our online freedom and liberty. However, the disadvantages and flaws representing Tor and the network formulated by it are quite crucial and lead to catastrophic outcomes if necessary precautions are not taken.