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VPN vs Tor: When to Use Tor or a VPN

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VPN vs Tor: When to Use Tor or a VPN

What is Tor and How Does it Relate to VPNs

The Onion Router (TOR) is a web browser that helps to protect your online identity by routing all of your browsing data through a series of proxies. They do not offer VPN services, but it is a similar system to VPNs in that it masks your IP address by routing your Internet data through another server (or three, in the case of Tor).

What makes Tor different from a VPN is that it doesn't encrypt any of your information. VPN service providers protect your privacy more effectively by preventing your ISP from keeping logs of your online activity. Furthermore, a VPN will ensure that even if your activity is monitored, it will be unreadable by third parties.

How Tor Browser Works

Tor Mechanics

The name "Tor" is an acronym for "The Onion Router," alluding to the fact that there are layers of new security to help protect your privacy.

What Tor browser is primarily engaged in is a multi-step form of IP masking. When you start the browser up, you are connected to a proxy server someplace else on the planet. You then "hop" through two more server nodes before your computer connects with whatever site you were trying to access. When that site sends you information back, it will also go through three random nodes.

The idea is that this makes traffic analysis very difficult. Traffic analysis involves watching various nodes and keeping logs of who is accessing what. Because your data travels through so many nodes, no one node knows both the origin and destination of that data.

Moreover, Tor browser is necessary to go to sites on the so-called "dark web". In fact, a dark website address generally ends in ".onion," indicating its connection to Tor. These are websites that aren't indexed or crawled like regular sites and have higher levels of security with fewer logs. Because you have to use a special browser that hides your IP, users are automatically better able to keep their online activity private.

Tor Security Advantages

  • Tor hides your IP address from the moment you start up the browser.
  • It's entirely free to use both the browser and the Onion Network.
  • The Tor Network is distributed and run by volunteers around the world, so it's difficult for governments and organizations to shut it down.

Tor Disadvantages

  • Unlike a VPN,Tor can be incredibly slow. In fact, it generally is noticeably slower than other browsers used through VPNs. This not only bogs down your Internet browsing, but it also makes gaming through the browser or watching video very difficult.
  • The Tor Network is a volunteer organization, so anyone can set up a node on it. There is no accountability or funding for the network, just a bunch of people who set up a server to be used.
  • It's possible for anyone to set up an exit node on the Tor Network, and with no encryption, that means that all the information sent through that connection can be captured in server logs. Hackers can easily set one of these up and monitor all of your online activity.
  • Using Tor can draw attention to you by surveillance and security operations. And accessing some dark web sites can get you in trouble.
  • There are several ways that the IP masking on Tor can fail, including if you're using it for certain types of file transfer or open documents while you still have a connection to the network.
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What a VPN Network Helps You With

VPN Mechanics

Working with a VPN is similar to Tor, but has a number of advanced features that make it generally more versatile.

VPNs operate a network of servers that hide your IP address to protect your privacy, similar to Tor. However, unlike Tor, a VPN tends to only use a single, more robust server to route your traffic through, so it's a lot faster than going through the various volunteer nodes. This protects the VPN partners privacy while keeping speeds up.

The most significant difference between VPNs and Tor, however, is that a VPN will also encrypt your data. This means that if your Internet connection is being monitored, the data will be unreadable by the third party. It's the easiest way to avoid the issue with Tor of people keeping logs of traffic coming through exit nodes.

Another way that some VPNs increase your online security is by keeping a strict no logs (or 'zero logs') policy. This is your guarantee that your VPN isn't watching what you access or otherwise invading your privacy. With no central organization for Tor, they can't make the same promise.

VPN final thoughts: when it comes to a well rounded security and privacy protection plan, you can't go wrong with a VPN.

VPN Advantages

  • VPNs are significantly faster than Tor because they use their own, dedicated network and you only have to pass through one node.
  • A good VPN will have a zero log policy to protect your privacy.
  • All your Internet connections are protected with access to a VPN, not just the ones that go through Tor.
  • You're protected from data leaks by a VPN Kill Switch, which increases your security by cutting your Internet feed if you accidentally disconnect from the VPN, then turning it back on when you reconnect.

VPN Disadvantages

  • You generally can't access VPNs for free unless you are willing to watch ads or abide by speed/traffic limitations. PrivadoVPN provides users with 10GB free of data every month.
  • You can't access .onion sites with only a VPN.

Do You Need a VPN or Tor?

Depending on how you use the Internet, you might need either a VPN or Tor in order to do what you want to do.

Tor is excellent if you want an inexpensive (free), unlimited way to protect your privacy, and don't mind if it's not particularly robust. Open Internet security protocols and a volunteer network make it so you can hide your IP easily. It's also the only way that you can access the dark web, which has privacy resources for journalists, whistleblowers, freedom fighters, and other vulnerable groups.

That being said, because Tor is so slow and the privacy protection it offers is minimal, you're generally better off with a VPN.

A VPN can do everything Tor does except browse .onion sites, but better and faster. Not only will a VPN subscription give you the ability to use a dedicated server network, speeding up your connection, but it also will mask your IP, keeping your identity secure.

Furthermore, with a VPN you also get encryption for all of your online activity, something that Tor lacks.

If you have the choice, a VPN is going to be your best bet in most situations.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Tor is a web browser that routes all of your traffic through three randomly chosen servers from a volunteer network located around the world. It can protect your browsing history from being traced directly back to you. However, it comes with no encryption, tends to be slow, and only provides minimal online security.

A VPN is a service that routes all of your Internet traffic through one server that is built to handle it. It protects all your information by not only hiding your identity, but also encrypting everything so that it can't be read by third parties. A VPN like PrivadoVPN has servers that you can choose from located all over the world.

A VPN is going to give you the best speeds. Because Tor routes your browsing through several nodes of varying quality, it significantly slows down your connection. With a VPN, you're going to get faster speeds in most cases.

Yes, you absolutely can use Tor while you're on a VPN network. However, with the capabilities of a VPN, you're generally being needlessly redundant. Unless you're trying to view .onion pages, a VPN should cover most of your needs. However, if you still want to use Tor, you shouldn't have an issue doing so on a VPN.

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