Is ToR a Blessing? or a Curse?
What is ToR?
Tor (The Onion Router) is a free software that enables anonymous communication. The core principles were developed in the year 1990 by Paul Syverson, Michael G. Reed and David Goldschlag, to protect U.S. intelligence communication. In its early stages the Tor project received most of its funding from the US Government. However, it was initially launched for research purposes in the year 2002 but in the later years, it gained a lot of attention from the users all around the globe as it was freely accessible and enabled anyone to chat and send instant anonymous messages to anyone. At present it is used by millions of users and mostly for the illicit purposes. The irony here is that Tor project was actually started for Military communication and to keep the messages safe by encrypting them, where anonymity meant saving lives.
The name is a metaphor as it uses the onion routing technique to keep the data from leaving any track. In onion routing the message that is transferred from one node to another is encapsulated into several encrypted layers, hence the name onion.
Or In simple words for better understanding:
The message passes through a relay of server nodes, which keep on bouncing the message from one relay node to another (where every single server node is located in a different part of the world) and it only reaches the destination on the decryption of its last encrypted layer. The anonymity is never disclosed as the relay nodes generate false IP addresses when you try to trace the track from where the message came.
Advantages of using Tor:
- Anonymity: It’s just a browser where you can access the data, but what makes it different from other browsers is the Onion Routing technique which helps oneself to remain anonymous, where only the data can be sent/received, but who sent/received the data could not be found.
- Easiest proxy: Tor provides the easiest, fastest and highly secure proxy service. There’s no better solution when it comes to keeping your information safe, as well reputed companies are selling your personal information to other agencies for money, in this world where you can trust no one, it’s better to be an anonymous.
- To bypass censorships: It gives you the freedom to access data, without any restrictions so those living in Countries like North Korea, and China, where a huge part of the internet is blocked permanently by the government, one can easily use Tor to bypass such censorships without revealing their identities to anyone.
Disadvantages of using Tor:
- When people know they have anonymity they tend to do anything they want, access to the Dark Web which caters to things like, murder for hire, child porn sites, drug trafficking, and so on are the very unfortunate outcomes of this.
- Tor is a place where you are on your own, and are vulnerable to many threats as only your identity I.e. your IP address is safe but not your data. Also, there are some serious security loopholes in almost every operating system, so if someone wants to hack into your system, the Tor can only protect you to a certain extent. With the advanced hacking tools and taking the advantage of loopholes in the OS, your personal information or activity log can be monitored easily within the Tor network. The last connection point in the final relay node is an easy target and can be compromised with a little effort.
- You are not 100% safe on TOR even though it provides the highest security level, there is always some risk that you are being monitored. For an entity like the NSA it is not impossible to track you down. Also the moment you download this software you are added to a list and comes under the radar of such bodies, who are fighting against such illegal activities and they might keep an eye on all your activities.
- Tor has become a hub of illegal activities, Piracy, human trafficking, selling and buying of arms and ammunition and military tanks, selling of stolen credit card details, funding of terrorist organizations and the list goes on and on. Think of an illegal activity and it’s there. This is the reason why it’s banned in some countries.
Some important points to remember while using Tor:
- Use paid VPN: However, if you want to use Tor, you must use a paid VPN for better security (free VPN might store your data or communication log) but the major issues with using both Tor and VPN together will slow down the service drastically. Thus selection of a high quality paid VPN is imperative.
- Don’t use a torrent with Tor: Torrent applications ignore proxy settings and creates a direct connection even while using Tor Which sends your real IP for the package GET request.
- Disable browser plugins: Browser plugins like Flash and RealPlayer can be compromised very easily and can be manipulated to reveal your IP. This way Tor can be bypassed and harm your privacy and anonymity.
Don’t open the downloaded document through ToR:: Be very careful while downloading documents or any other files as these files may contain resources that will start downloading outside the Tor by some other application which is using them.
Use the Tor or not?
So what is the conclusion? Before deciding, just think about what you do online and what you want anonymity for. If you just want to cover your browsing history after watching porn or something, an Incognito mode is probably more than sufficient. But if you are a hacker or someone who wants to anonymity for any reason, then you can go ahead with Tor. So if you really want to be completely anonymous, use only Tor. No alternative is going to be useful other than Tor, because it is hard to argue about Tor’s convenience and security systems. After all, that’s the reason why Tor’s so popular. It’s good enough if you use it carefully and know how to navigate it. It’s a good anonymity solution.