As soon as the name ‘Tor Browser’ is used in mainstream media, the editors of these articles like to associate it with complete anonymity. The credo is: once you install the Tor Browser, tracking your activity on the Internet is virtually impossible. In this post, we look at whether this claim is correct.
The Current Status
One thing is certain, browsing with Tor Browser installed is undoubtedly much more difficult to follow than with some random browser à la Chrome, Firefox, etc., without further evasiveness measures. If you were to install and use the Tor Browser right now, you would be much more anonymous online than without the program’s protection.
Admittedly, this fact is not at issue here: it’s not about whether the Tor Browser works more securely and anonymously than ordinary browsers—because it most definitely does that—but rather whether it really guarantees complete anonymity, as often claimed by less experienced users.
If you analyse the Tor Browser a little, you will quickly conclude, that this alleged total security just cannot be guaranteed. Otherwise, how could law enforcement agencies be able to catch criminals if the Tor Browser really worked 100%?
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A Look at the Strengths and Weaknesses
At its factory default, the Tor browser obscures the IP address by replacing it with a virtually anonymous IP address—but nothing more. Furthermore, the software only does this for applications that also use Tor. Only with the proper configuration does it become a browser that may call itself safe. To this end, we offer you some tips:
By default, the browser refrains from collecting data for the refresh frequency of the display as well as information about the resolution. Otherwise, it could provide information as to which users are using which data streams when evaluating all data. As a precaution, you should insist on using the Tor Browser in just one window.
Another disadvantage—admittedly not related to security—is the significantly slower speed. Used to 50 Mbps downloads? You can say goodbye to that with the Tor Browser, since the data is passed through so many other serves that the speed breaks down drastically.
It’s also worth considering that—theoretically—it would be possible to provide each proxy server of the Tor network with software that analyses the traffic on those servers. This would make a follow-up possible down the road. It is admittedly more of a theoretical risk, as the practical application would be extremely complex.
Meanwhile, you must also remember that the use of the Tor Browser alone can make you to look suspicious in the eyes of the authorities. True to the motto “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”, governments treat Tor Browser users sceptically from the outset—a sad development, which would take too long to discuss here.
Rescue by VPN Services?
Anonymity when using the Internet is not a privilege, but a fundamental right—just as in all other social spaces. Since, as we have seen, Tor Browser itself cannot guarantee 100% effective security and anonymity, sometimes it is necessary to fall back on VPN services. For example, Shellfire is a provider of VPN service that, in conjunction with the Tor Browser, obscures your Internet footprint much better.
In simple terms, before you can access the data on the Internet, first connect to another server using VPN services such as Shellfire. That server has a different IP address than your home hardware. If people or authorities attempt to gain access to you through the IP address, they will end up on the VPN server instead. This does not create logs of user data and is therefore practically useless for anyone who wants to find out who you are or what you are doing.
The Tor Browser already hides your IP address quite well. If someone cottons on to you, though, you should also connect to a VPN server. As a rule, this will provide you with alternatives to several dozen countries. For example, when analysing geographic location data, it appears you are currently in Venezuela, even though you are sitting in your home in Los Angeles.
In conclusion, our tip is this: if it really needs to be safe, you should definitely rely on a combination of Tor Browser and Shellfire.