TOR: A network that protects your identity and personal data?

Drawing on a vast peer-to-peer network combined with ingenious data encryption, TOR is often presented as a reliable browser that can guarantee your anonymity on the Web. At a time when many threats weigh on your digital life, TOR constitutes an interesting alternative for securing your data. However, recent revelations highlight the flaws of this tool. Flaws that malicious people could subsequently exploit.

Your personal data has never been so threatened. The Cambridge Analytic affair showed us that obscure companies can get their hands on the data of millions of people. Furthermore, everyone is aware that unscrupulous individuals use all strategies to steal our data and usurp our identity.

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In this situation, Internet users are looking for a reliable way to browse the Web safely. It is precisely to meet this need that the TOR browser was created.

TOR: Kezako

TOR was originally a tool for the US military to communicate securely anywhere in the world. The software allows you to hide your IP address and encrypt the requests sent. Features that eliminate the risk of data leaks and therefore preserve the anonymity of the user. However, when the army acquired its own VPN network, TOR became the web browser we know today.

The TOR browser owes its strength to the vast peer-to-peer network that it has built up over the years. Users agree to relay requests sent by other users around the world. Thanks to this, Internet users manage to hide their IP, knowing that TOR currently has more than 1.2 million daily users. So many connections make it possible to thwart attempts to steal data, especially since TOR also has its own servers to manage traffic.

Since its launch, TOR has been extremely successful. Not wanting to stop on this momentum, the project contributors quickly released a mobile application working on all Android versions. Whether you use a computer or an Android phone, you can browse the Web anonymously using this tool.

What is TOR used for?

TOR mainly allows you to hide your IP in the same way as a proxy server. This feature guarantees you maximum security when wandering on the web. Users can in particular shield their browsing activities from the eyes of internet giants or those of the government.

In addition, TOR provides the means to bypass certain restrictions linked to a geographic area. It allows Internet users to access content reserved for people living in a specific region in the same way as a VPN. In addition, it is also an interesting alternative to evade censorship.

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Indeed, many activists and political dissidents use the TOR network to make their voices heard despite the measures taken by their government. This is how activists manage to denounce injustices committed in countries cut off from the world. Moreover, the browser also includes a messaging system allowing users to communicate without fear of surveillance from their government.

For some people living in China, for example, TOR is also a way to access the entire web. Many Chinese Internet users use it to watch videos on YouTube, connect to their Facebook accounts or visit sites that are normally inaccessible.

In short, Tor offers anonymity to its users in addition to broadening their horizons by making unavailable sites and content accessible. In any case, many people have adopted this browser to prevent malicious people or companies with questionable ethics from stealing their precious browsing data.

How TOR works

TOR relies on remote servers serving as gateways as well as a vast network of devices acting as proxies. Each request passes through at least 3 devices located anywhere in the world (here called nodes) before reaching their destination and the incoming and outgoing data take a different path each time. Connections are also encrypted. In this context, it is particularly difficult, if not impossible, to monitor your internet traffic. In addition, you manage to hide your IP at any time.

However, this ingenious operation also has its downsides. Due to the long path data travels, you may experience some slowness when accessing any site. That said, this is a minor inconvenience for those who want to browse the internet freely or protect themselves against cybercrime.

Still, despite the specificities of digital network, installing the browser that will allow you to access it can be done in a few minutes. Moreover, it is now possible to launch the software from a removable drive in the cloud. This solution will prevent malicious people from infecting your copy of the browser to steal data.

tor darknet

Also note that each time you close it, the browser will erase all browsing data on your computer and on the network. It is then impossible to know which computer originally launched a request to access any content.

After installing the browser, your computer or phone becomes an integral part of the TOR network. Your device also serves as a relay to hide the IP from other users. In this way, you contribute to the digital security of Internet users around the world. As the connections are encrypted and your address is hidden, you run no risk.

Finally, the TOR network is also the cornerstone of the dark web by providing access to the famous .onion sites (remember that TOR stands for The Onion Router). Its operation opens new possibilities to all those who wish to discover the hidden side of the Internet. However, this is not a place you want to venture into if you want to preserve the security of your data at all costs.

Using TOR: Is it prohibited by law?

It all depends on the country where you live. While some governments around the world have not expressed any reservations about the use of this software, others prohibit and even provide serious sanctions for any proven use of TOR. Countries, but also internet service providers and companies have taken steps to ensure that the TOR network is inaccessible.

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The fact that TOR allows access to the Dark Web may, however, raise concerns. Many illegal activities are indeed flourishing on this parallel internet. Internet users can buy stolen personal data, drugs and even weapons. An intolerable situation in the eyes of certain political figures.

tor dark web

Cyber ​​security specialists also point out the risks linked to the fact that it is open source software. With its source code accessible to everyone, this tool is sure to arouse the interest of hackers. Many of them study it from every angle to discover exploitable flaws.

Moreover, some of them claim that it is possible to identify and then attack a third-party device and then prevent it from transmitting requests from other devices. This being done, it remains to decrypt the connections to recover the precious navigation data. Such an operation is particularly laborious, but not impossible. It remains to be seen whether hackers can carry out a targeted attack on the TOR network.

For better protection against these threats, specialists do not recommend activating JavaScript. The latter can automatically launch dangerous scripts that will make your device more vulnerable to attacks. This simple precaution could save you from falling victim to ransomware.

What other solutions to browse the internet anonymously?

Faced with the needs expressed by Internet users, other tools offering functionalities quite similar to those of TOR have also emerged. In this category, Freenet and I2P remain the most popular browsers. Today, Brave, another browser, also allows you to take advantage of the TOR network by simply activating the “TOR Browsing” mode.

Please note, however, that even if this software can guarantee your anonymity, they do not work in the same way as TOR and also have their own flaws.

Combining TOR with a VPN: an interesting idea for better data protection

TOR only protects your browsing data when you browse the web. To better protect your data, it is better to use a VPN in parallel. This way, your downloads and also the video streams you view do not escape this protection.

Despite everything, associating the TOR network with a VPN remains a delicate task since compatibility problems can appear. To spare yourself this unpleasant surprise, we advise you to turn to ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, and PrivateVPN. These operate optimally even when using the TOR network. Enough to preserve your connection speed and effectively encrypt each request coming from your computer, smartphone or tablet.

Creating a mirror site on TOR: a response to media censorship

The fact that governments restrict access to information is a reality. In China, Iran and even North Korea, the population cannot access news that the government does not want to relay.

In order to combat censorship, BBC News, for example, turned to TOR. Towards the end of 2019, this British media outlet put a .onion version of its site online. The latter is accessible from any country in the world by simply using the TOR browser. Of course, visitors can access the content they want anonymously. Facebook also already committed to this goose a few years ago.

How to use TOR?

First of all, you need to install the browser. To download the installation file for your computer (Windows, macOS, Linux), go to the TOR project website. Mobile users will have to download the Orbot application via a secure address. Let yourself be guided through the installation and you can immediately start browsing anonymously on the internet.

Despite everything, don’t lose sight of the threats to which you expose yourself. In particular, we advise you not to wander around the dark web to visit some sites involved in illegal activities. Some of them hide hackers who will succeed in stealing your data despite the protection that the TOR network gives you.

Is TOR as secure as we think?

Many cybersecurity experts have been looking at TOR for years. Nael Krawetz, one of them, has already contacted those responsible many times to report the vulnerabilities of TOR. Remarks left unanswered for the most part.

In 2017, this expert had already presented some flaws. But the developers only reacted to add a button to report bugs. To reassure users, the parent company also promised rewards to those who could inform it of the existence of bugs.

tor browser

According to Neal Krawetz, no measures have been taken to correct the bugs presented despite these initiatives. Having noticed that nothing had been done to correct the bugs he reported, this professional contacted the initiators of the TOR project again. The latter simply replied that the flaws reported were “already known” to the development team.

In July 2020, Nael Krawetz came out of his silence to reveal the vulnerabilities of TOR to the whole world.

He argued in particular that the tool and the network present no less than 5 major flaws. The first would allow internet service providers to restrict access to the TOR network. To do this, it will be enough to detect a signature specific to the data packets passing through the TOR gateways. By blocking them, it will be possible to prevent internet traffic from passing through the TOR network.

The second vulnerability provides the means to recognize indirect connections supposedly created by Tor gateways when the network is restricted. Here again, the expert affirms that it is possible to identify the IP of these computers serving as gateways. TCP connections would also present these famous signatures.

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Nael Krawetz is expected to reveal other flaws in the coming months. In view of his statements, these revelations should highlight a method for knowing the IP of TOR servers. With this information now known to everyone, TOR users who reside in countries like North Korea face heavy sanctions, including imprisonment.

In these countries, TOR effectively constitutes the only alternative to fully access the internet and enjoy a minimum of freedom of expression. These rights are now under threat, as governments around the world could succeed in blocking the TOR network in a few years. However, the situation could change if the development team reacts.