The last thing I’ve ever wanted to do is take a trip down to the seedy underbelly of the Internet, known as the Deep Web, but my curiosity has demanded I take an annual visit to see what’s up.
In the time I’ve spent checking out what’s in the Deep Web, the essential browser Tor has always piqued my interest. It’s a browser that acts like a VPN, but it’s not technically a VPN because it’s a browser. Encryption, anonymity, you got the whole package. But Tor can also view a part of the Internet that isn’t visible to non-Tor users. How? And what keeps Tor from acting as a VPN?
Tor Them a New One
Like VPNs, the idea of Tor came from the lack of security that the Internet was a victim to in the 90’s. Connections just weren’t secure enough. Microsoft attempted to solve this by creating the P2PP protocol that would serve as a basis for VPNs, but some went a different direction. Here we meet David Goldschlag, Mike Reed, and Paul Syverson, the trio that would lay the groundwork for Tor.
Their solution was onion routing. The name, while strange, refers to the many layers of an onion to describe traffic on an onion route. On an onion route, traffic is sent through multiple servers, each stop adding some encryption until the traffic is fully encrypted.
While onion routing was just a prototype in the 90’s, Paul Syverson and Roger Dingledine turned Tor into a reality in 2002 under the name Tor, standing for “the onion routing”.
From then on, Tor would find a prosperous future with dedicated team behind it and millions of users across the world. So, how does Tor work today?
Peeling an Onion
The Tor browser works the same as the early prototypes did, but on a much larger scale. Tor has thousands of “nodes” across the world that it uses to send and encrypt traffic through. The nodes that Tor decides to send your data through is completely random, so the website you’re loading may decide that you’re in Norway when you’re really in the middle of Wisconsin.
Speaking of loading, this type of routing is extremely slow, at least when compared to modern browsers such as Chrome or Firefox (sorry, Edge). You can barely stream a Youtube video on Tor, so don’t expect lightning fast browsing on Tor.
The plus to this type of routing though is the anonymity it provides. Because your data is sent through three random nodes, websites won’t know that you’re trying to access Netflix from China or The New York Times in Saudi Arabia. It’ll just appear as someone from America and et cetera.
That does bring me to another downside to Tor though, and that is major websites not buddying up to Tor. Many major websites are blocked on Tor because these sites do not want to be associated Tor, thanks to the stigma that Tor has gained over the years, since criminals prefer to stay anonymous and use Tor for shady deals and other crimes.
Tor vs a VPN
Now you might be thinking that a VPN isn’t that useful if we have a browser dedicated to anonymity, but you’d be dead wrong.
Firstly, Tor is, once again, slow. That type of integrated anonymity comes at a cost, whereas VPNs rarely, if ever, affect your connection performance. Unless you really need Tor, you might enjoy the speed of VPNs more.
Also, the Tor network is made up of servers that are volunteered. This means that the performance of said servers vary, and some can be outright untrustworthy. Though, that’s the price that must be paid for a decentralized network.
VPNs are also much easier to set up. All it takes is a few clicks to get a VPN software as well as get it up and running, whereas Tor takes some time to set up.
Neither option is bad, it’s all dependent on what you need. If you need a fast connection to stay anonymous, use a VPN. If you need to keep your internet history on the down low and don’t mind a speed hit, use Tor. You can do no wrong!
Join the discussion on this topic with Free Hacks and Codes by visiting our contact page.