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How to Browse Anonymously With Tor

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Everything you do online can be traced back to your IP address. Even if you’re accessing encrypted websites, networks can see the websites you’re accessing – and the websites themselves know your IP address. Use the Tor network to browse with anonymity.

Tor is an encrypted network that can route your traffic through relays, making the traffic appear to come from exit nodes. Unlike with proxies, the exit node itself doesn’t know your IP address or where you are.

How Tor Works

When you use a Tor client, your Internet traffic is routed through Tor’s network. The traffic travels through several randomly selected relays (run by volunteers), before exiting the Tor network and arriving at your destination. This prevents your Internet service provider and people monitoring your local network from viewing the websites you access. It also prevents the websites themselves from knowing your physical location or IP address – they’ll see the IP address and location of the exit node instead. Even the relays don’t know who requested the traffic they’re passing along. All traffic within the Tor network is encrypted.

Tor circuit step two

Image Credit: The Tor Project, Inc.

For example, let’s say you access Google.com through Tor. Your Internet service provider and local network operator can’t see that you’re accessing Google.com – they just see encrypted Tor traffic. The Tor relays pass your traffic along until it eventually reaches an exit node. The exit node talks to Google for you – from Google’s perspective, the exit node is accessing their website. (Of course, traffic can be monitored at the exit node if you’re accessing an unencrypted website.) The exit node passes the traffic back along the relays, and the relays don’t know where it ends up.

Tor offers anonymity and a path through Internet censorship and monitoring – people living under repressive regimes with censored Internet connections can use Tor to access the wider Internet without fear of reprisal. Whistleblowers can use Tor to leak information without their traffic being monitored and logged.

It’s not a great idea to use Tor for normal browsing, though. While the architecture does a good job of offering anonymity, browsing through Tor is significantly slower than browsing normally.

If you want more detailed information about how Tor works, check out the Tor Project’s website.

Tor Browser Bundle

The Tor Project recommends the Tor Browser Bundle as the safest, easiest way to use Tor. The Tor Browser Bundle is a customized, portable version of Firefox that comes preconfigured with the ideal settings and extensions for TOr. You can use Tor with other browsers and browser configurations, but this is likely to be unsafe. For example, Flash and other browser plug-ins can reveal your IP address – the Tor Browser Bundle disables plug-ins for you and provides a safe environment, so you don’t have to worry about your browser settings. It also includes the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere extension, which enables HTTPS on websites with HTTPS support. HTTPS provides encryption between the exit node and destination website.

Tor recommends that you not download document files, such as DOC and PDF files, and open them in external applications. The external application can connect to the Internet to download additional resources, exposing your IP address.

Getting Started

After downloading the Tor Browser Bundle, double-click the downloaded EXE file and extract it to your hard drive. The Tor Browser Bundle requires no installation, so you can extract it to a USB stick and run it from there.

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Launch the Start Tor Browser.exe file in the Tor Browser folder.

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The EXE file will launch Vidalia, which connects to the Tor network. After connecting, Vidalia will automatically open Tor’s customized Firefox browser.

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Vidalia automatically launches the Tor Browser once it connects. When you close the browser, Vidalia automatically disconnects from Tor and closes.

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Vidalia creates a local proxy on your system. The Tor Browser Bundle is configured to route all your traffic through it by default, as we can see here in the Tor Browser’s connection settings window. You can configure other programs to access Tor through the proxy, but they may reveal your IP address in other ways.

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Use the Tor Browser to browse the web just as you would with a normal browser. It’s pre-configured with Startpage and DuckDuckGo, search engines that respect your privacy.

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Remember not to provide any personal information – say, by logging into an account associated with you – while using the Tor browser, or you’ll lose the anonymity.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/15/12

Comments (18)

  1. Harkaboy

    Does it slower your internet access down?

  2. FLGEEK

    See the sentence above where it tell u not to use it for normal browsing!

    I get how this is very anonymous….how does it compare to Incognito Windows in Chrome or whatever?

  3. Ashish Jain

    What @ internet advertisement, can i click to my own ads :)

  4. ERFrizki

    incognito doesn’t store cookies, history and whatsoever and websites can recognize your real IP address.
    but with tor, your real ip address will be hidden and if you check your own IP (try google ‘what is my ip address’) when using tor, it’ll be some random IP.

  5. irkregent

    Wait–that last paragraph seems to negate one of the big reasons to use Tor. I thought a major use case for Tor was web browsing in locations where there might be snooping, such as public wifi hotspots.

  6. Sime

    irkregent, you are confusing anonymity (Tor) with security (VPN).

  7. GaGator

    Many sites block proxy access and all downloads are slow.

  8. cam2644

    With Governments worldwide snooping to excess operations like Tor will have a more and more important role in preserving freedom

  9. Citrus Rain

    THANK YOU!

    I thought I was downloading a legit legal torrent, but I got a DCMA from it. I’ve been afraid to open Deluge ever since.

    @FLGEEK
    In private browsing is the client end. It leaves nothing behind on the client side. But the requests and data transfer is not on the client end. Those can still be viewed by your ISP and the websites you visit can still see your normal IP address. By going to a proxy, the data isn’t going straight to you, it’s going to the proxy server, the proxy’s IP address is what is able to be recorded instead of your own. You browse through the proxy, which encrypts your activity via client side code, and then it decrypts it once it gets past your ISP and to the proxy. When receiving data from the proxy, the information is encrypted by the proxy and sent back to you, where it gets decrypted by the client program.

  10. Kevin James Lausen

    because I know htg has Linux users…

    sudu apt-get install vadalia

    or google search/download tails a Linux OS just for browsing w/ Tor…then just burn it 2 disc w/ k3b or 2 a flash drive w/ unetbootin usb tool

  11. Jehanne

    Use Vuze for P2P — it has built-in support for Tor and I2P.

  12. jasray

    The frustration with Tor is the slow speed; however, if more users opted to be a Tor node and provided bandwidth, it would be a wonderful privacy tool.

  13. Dark Reality

    Tor is not for torrents. Because it relies on other people for its connection, BitTorrent just slows it down. You want a VPN for that, or a torrent proxy, but a VPN anonymizes more than just BT traffic.

    Tor pretty much has two legitimate uses: One, looking at things that are illegal to look at in your country. I’m not talking about torrents. If you don’t know what I mean, think about it. Two, avoiding government persecution during a revolution. Actually, the first isn’t legitimate, but it’s probably why a good majority of Tor users are using it.

    I tried Tor once, years ago. Not because I had any good reason, just because I was curious. It sucked, it was slow, and I never used it again.

  14. Jehanne

    Try again. I am a relay, and on occasion, a user, also. I get between 100 Kbps and 200 Kbps. For maximum privacy, spoof your MAC address (use Technitium MAC Address Changer), use TrueCrypt system encryption along with triple-cascading encryption for your individual file containers; for the later, also use multiple key files, along with good, long (and distinct!) passphrases, which are easy for you to remember but impossible for others to guess. A few bogus TrueCrypt containers couldn’t hurt, either; just give everything, real or bogus, obscure names with a “non-temp” extension. (We don’t want CCleaner deleting anything.) Use anonymous, public Wi-Fi hotspots. QuickSilver Lite is also a must-have privacy tool, which, like Vuze, also works with Tor.

    If you download a lot using Tor, just be (like me) a “middle-only” relay operator. It’s completely safe and will obscure your IP traffic even more.

  15. Cymek

    I have no money so targeted advertising is wasted on me, I also get rid off as many ads as possible regardless of how interesting they might be

  16. cyfi

    Good to know< but one thing still has me perplexed. The article states that even the diff nodes won't know who they're relaying to – if this were completely true then the system wouldn't work surely. If I tor through to google.com, there is a definite route back to me, right? So what stops tor from becoming a super-spy network? I ask only out of curiosity… it's like that line from that Dan Brown novel goes – who will guard the guards?

  17. cyfi

    And another thing to really mess with the minds of conspiracy theorists reading this – a guy keeps a condom in his wallet ‘coz he intends to use it, right? So why bother with who’s connecting to which site; if you really wanna know who the naughty kids are, you just have to get the list of who clicked to download tor to begin with. Lol

  18. Chris Hoffman

    @cyfi

    That’s actually a great question. You’ll probably want to check out Tor’s website for more details. I’m not an expert in the internals: https://www.torproject.org/about/overview

    “each relay along the way knows only which relay gave it data and which relay it is giving data to. No individual relay ever knows the complete path that a data packet has taken. The client negotiates a separate set of encryption keys for each hop along the circuit to ensure that each hop can’t trace these connections as they pass through.”

    It’s a bit complicated, but every tor node only knows where the traffic is going next.

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