STAY 100% ANONYMOUS USING TOR
Your complete guide to the web’s best-kept secret Create a Tor ‘relay’ Add a VPN 10 hidden sites you must visit
It’s hardly a secret that when you go online, your activities are followed – not only by Google, Facebook and Amazon, but by official surveillance teams, ‘just in case’ you’re a criminal in waiting. In Web User, we often recommend privacy add- ons and software that block at least some web trackers, but if you really want to preserve your anonymity, Tor is the best option available.
This stealthy browser keeps your web activities safe from spammers and advertisers, hides your personal data from corporations and other web users, and lets you browse without being followed by identity thieves and stalkers. You can send personal photos without having them intercepted, use social networks without being monitored, write genuinely anonymous blog posts and much more.
In this privacy special, we explain how to make the most of Tor’s anonymity tools and ensure you stay safe when browsing what’s referred to – somewhat misleadingly – as the Dark Web. We outline our essential dos and don’ts for using the browser and reveal some of the most interesting sites that can only be accessed through Tor.
And if venturing into the Dark Web sounds far too risky, be reassured by our first-hand experience on page 46.
WHAT IS TOR?
Tor ( www.torproject.org) is an anonymity network that hides your identity as you browse the web, share content and engage in other online activities. It encrypts any data sent from your computer, so that no one can see who or where you are, even when you’re logged into a website. Tor is an acronym for The Onion Router, and it was created by the US Naval Research Laboratory in the mid-nineties.
WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH ONIONS?
It’s all about layers. The data from your computer is sent through a series of ‘nodes’ (other computers, also known as ‘relays’) run by millions of volunteers around the world, building up layers of encryption like the layers of an onion. Tor gives you a different IP address every time you send or request data, disguising your real one and making it nearly impossible for prying eyes to know where the data originated.
HOW DO I USE TOR?
The easiest way to use Tor is through its dedicated browser ( bit.ly/ torbrowser432), which is available for Windows, MACOS and Linux (it can be run from a USB stick if you don’t want to install it on your computer). The Tor browser is based on Firefox, but disables plugins that could compromise your privacy and security. It won’t clash with other software you have installed, but you may need to configure your antivirus program or firewall to allow it access to the internet. There’s also a Tor app for Android, called Orbot ( bit.ly/ orbot432); and an operating system – Tails ( tails.boum.org) that’s preconfigured to use Tor.
WHO USES TOR?
The police, the military, medical researchers, human-rights groups, abuse victims, whistleblowers, journalists and, increasingly, anyone else who wants to keep their online activities private or is concerned about cyberspying. It is very popular among people in internet-censored countries such as Russia and the UAE, and counts Human Rights Watch among its past donors.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a big fan and says: “Without Tor, the streets of the internet become like the streets of a very heavily surveilled city. With Tor, we have private spaces and private lives, where we can choose who we want to associate with and how”.
HOW POPULAR IS IT?
The most recent figures ( metrics .torproject.org) suggest Tor has around 2.5 million daily users, with Facebook’s Tor-only website alone (see page 42) attracting more than a million visitors every month. The US has the most Tor users ( 19% of the total number) with the UK in seventh place (3.4%).
BUT ISN’T TOR A BIT DODGY?
Every medium, from the printed page to a standard browser, has the potential to be dodgy, but web services do not commit ‘actions’ – their users do. As with technology such as Bitcoin – Tor’s preferred currency – Tor does not incite or condone illegal enterprises. On its website, it recognises that criminal elements exploit anonymity, but points out: “Criminals can already do bad things... they already have lots of options available”.
For every lawbreaker, there are numerous legitimate users, many of whom use Tor to great social benefit.
SO IT’S COMPLETELY LEGAL?
Yes, completely. The US Navy isn’t in the habit of creating illegal software, and there’s nothing dubious about wanting to browse in private. Nobody has ever been arrested or prosecuted solely for using Tor, only for what they used it to do, and Tor itself says in its legal FAQ that “it is not a tool designed or intended to be used to break the law” ( bit.ly/legal432).
AND IT’S COMPLETELY SAFE?
As with many online tools, that depends on what you use it for. Many people have reservations about browsing with Tor because it provides access to the so-called Dark Web, where they fear they might stumble across disturbing and illegal content. However, Tor doesn’t blithely offer you a directory of links so you can start exploring Dark Web sites – you need to know the exact web addresses, which usually consist of a jumble of 16 characters and the domain ‘.onion’. All the same, it pays to be vigilant and you should avoid opening suspicious files and links.
We explain what to do (and what not to do) in order to stay safe on Tor, on page 43.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is one of Tor’s biggest supporters
Tor’s mobile version for Android phones and tablets is called Orbot
Tor’s latest figures show that it has 2.5 million daily users worldwide