Is Tor browser safe to use?

9.6/10
Last updated: May 13, 2021

Tor browser is the most secure option that you can get. Unlike any other browser, it offers unprecedented privacy and access to its .onion network.

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Although Tor is a great tool against censorship, it is not flawless. Tor remains free and available to everyone at the cost of online safety. By design, their network of volunteer relays makes complete privacy impossible.

Fortunately, Tor isn’t the only privacy tool out there. A VPN, such as NordVPN, can be used instead of Tor or together with it, creating the ultimate tool to protect your privacy. That means not only browsing, but streaming, torrenting, and gaming as well.

Tor security issues

Below are some of the security issues you may be exposed to while browsing with Tor.

Want to make Tor more secure?
NordVPN integrates it into their VPN solution for maximum protection.

Unencrypted connection between the exit node and the destination server

One of the biggest issues related to Tor is that the connection between exit nodes and the destination server is unencrypted. Meanwhile, although the connection between your device and the entry node is encrypted, your IP address is not hidden.

An IP address can often be enough to narrow down your identity to a few individuals. That means that you will know who is doing what online if you combine the information from both the entry and exit node.

Powerful actors can easily abuse Tor for surveillance

It’s true that the entry and exit node is never the same person, and nodes don’t know the identity of other nodes. However, theoretically, nothing stops a resource-rich party from controlling a large chunk of the network, increasing the chances of having both the entry and exit node data.

For example, there have long been rumors about governments running Tor nodes, allowing bulk data collection.

This isn’t the only concern when it comes to powerful actors exploiting Tor. For example, in 2017, security researchers from Hacker House showed that it was possible to deanonymize Tor users by tricking them into opening a Windows DRM-protected file.

While this sort of attack would be too expensive for run-of-the-mill hackers, well-funded actors such as governments would be more than capable of carrying it out.

inspection of features

How to make Tor Browser safe to use

Tor is awesome if you use it correctly. To make it secure:

Use a VPN with Tor Browser. Choosing a reliable VPN is one of the best ways to add an extra layer of security and privacy. It effectively solves every security issue Tor has – namely, encryption and your IP being known to the entry node.

In short, using Tor together with a great service like NordVPN grants a very high level of online security and privacy.

Fine-tune your Operational Security. Many experts see OpSec as a significant vulnerability for Tor users. By this, we mean ensuring that key identifying information such as payment details, IP addresses, MAC addresses, and your OS are shielded and not transmitted at any point. And it also means making extra sure that your passwords are fit for purpose.

Resist the urge to stock up on extensions. The Firefox-based Tor browser can become vulnerable due to toxic add-ons. This includes free VPNs like Hola or rating apps like Web of Trust. So try to keep your browser setup as clean as possible.

anonymus man

NordVPN: the service with native Tor integration

NordVPNis quite possibly the most secure VPN out there and even has an in-built Tor integration – Onion over VPN. This service offers military-grade AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, and no leaks. It operates out of Panama – a privacy-friendly country, allowing NordVPN to have a strict no-logging policy.

Perhaps most importantly, NordVPN is the fastest VPN service on the market today. That’s relevant because Tor impact speeds quite heavily, so you’ll want a fast VPN to combine it with.

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Tor vs. VPN: do we have a winner?

While you can achieve the highest degree of security by combining Tor and VPN, you can use both individually. The Tor vs VPN discussion has many talking points, but here are some of the main ones.

Tor vs VPN video review

Tor vs VPN | 2 tools - 1 purpose? Are you sure??
2021-02-25

Security

Tor protects what the user is doing while inside the Tor browser and not activities outside it. On the flip side, a VPN service protects all of the user’s online activities, including the web browser and other apps.

Top VPN providers are great for your online security. The success of their business depends on patching out any vulnerabilities quickly and effectively.  Tools like NordVPN have advanced features good enough for hackers or political activists in countries like China.

Nevertheless, while top VPNs are much more secure, they act as a hub for your data. Meanwhile, Tor disperses your data across volunteer relays. However, in practice, no-log VPNs carry little of your data, whereas the Tor relay network also has vulnerabilities.

Performance

VPNs generally have much faster connections.

Tor was not built with connection speed in mind. Your connection goes through a series of volunteer relays instead of the hard-metal servers of VPN providers. These relays are often much less capable of dealing with a lot of traffic than VPN servers.

Furthermore, routing with Tor is random and much less efficient. Typically, your connection goes through several relays, which is always a detriment to performance. With VPNs, you can choose which servers you connect to, resulting in more control and better speeds.

To illustrate, we performed some speed tests. The server chosen by the online speed test when using Tor is in Accra, meaning our Tor connection is going through somewhere in that area (a good illustration of random and inefficient routing):

tor speedtest accra

Here is the speed test using NordVPN. For fairness, we connected through a VPN server in Germany and chose the same speed test server in Accra:

NordVPN speedtest in Accra

As you can see, NordVPN is superior to Tor according to every metric: ping, download speed, and upload speed.

Devices

Tor is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android. You won’t be able to run it on iOS or any other platforms.

Support for devices varies from one VPN to another. For example, NordVPN has custom apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Android TV. They also offer add-ons for Chrome and Firefox, which is irrelevant for this comparison. However, NordVPN also supports a host of other device types, such as routers, smart TVs, etc.

Streaming, torrenting, and gaming

Tor is essentially good for one purpose: browsing (censored websites).

VPNs are much more versatile. You can use them for:

  • Streaming. VPNs can help you bypass geo-blocking and unlock platforms like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, HBO, Hulu, and much more
  • Torrenting. Downloading copyrighted content can get you into trouble – VPNs can hide your identity. The good ones are also fast enough to make torrenting convenient
  • Gaming. VPNs can be used to improve your ping (in some cases), and they can also unlock services like Nvidia Shield or Steam

Price

This is where Tor takes the edge over VPN: Tor is completely free.

VPNs come in free versions and paid versions, but the free ones have all sorts of issues. The Best VPN services can cost anywhere from $1.00-$15.00/month (with higher prices for shorter subscriptions).

Conclusion

There are limits to the safety of the Tor Browser. While it is certainly great as a free tool, the technical characteristics of Tor mean it can never be completely secure.

The safest way to use Tor is together with a good VPN service (check our Best VPN for Tor list). However, it is also safer to use a VPN instead of Tor (assuming you choose a secure provider).


You may also like to read:
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FAQ

Is Tor really safe?

The short answer is yes, it is. However, everything depends on what you’re planning to do with it. If you start visiting the dark web, the risk increases automatically. Don’t forget your safety slider and put it on “High” whenever you do something risky.

Is it enough to use Tor for safety?

No, it’s not enough. You can still get your device infected, so getting an antivirus before this happens is a rule of thumb. Moreover, a VPN is also a good idea for added protection. After all, it would be best if you stay safe outside of Tor too.

What's better – Tor or VPN?

That’s a question with multiple answers. First off, these are two different tools with different purposes. If you could have only one, pick a VPN because it’s universal and encrypts all of your traffic. But the best solution is to use Tor and VPN together.

Is Tor browser free?

Yes, the Tor browser is free. The whole Tor service is free as well, and servers are run by volunteers.

Does Tor browser have a mobile version?

Yes. Currently, Tor browser is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android. There’s no option for iOS, but users can still download the Onion browser app. It acts quite similarly to the original.

Tor browser is slow – what can I do?

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do because multiple servers from all over the world handle your data. Furthermore, there are only about 7,000 of them, which is clearly not enough for the increasing userbase.

Are there other networks like Tor?

Yes, there are. Two of the most well-known are the Invisible Internet Project and Freenet. However, you won’t have access to .onion websites while using them.

Good

  • Exceptional privacy
  • Feature-rich
  • Access to .onion websites
  • Based on relay network

Bad

  • Slows down browsing
  • Not user-friendly
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10 comments
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  1. eureka000

    I have used it once but I do not feel comfortable. Probably because I am used to the normal traditional browsers. However, I think using a VPN gets me covered so I don’t really dig deep into Tor so far


  2. Jacob B

    I have got this concern about Tor. This is it guys, my perception on Tor has been that it’s only designed for use on Dark web. Nah!! I got it all wrong. Tor will actually allow you to surf the internet privately and secured


  3. Mark

    why does it say that Tor should be used with a VPN ? While others say Tor should just be used on its own ? Confused !

    Thanks


    1. avatar
      Mikaela Bray

      Hi Mark,
      Using Tor on its own is fine in most cases, however, as a freeware project it does have some vulnerabilities. Using Tor with VPN fixes these vulnerabilities.


      1. Anonymous

        While your point is completely correct, but you are just mentioning a single VPN service, that reduces your credibility. Writing


  4. Gavu29

    While I’m pretty sure the Government has their claws in Tor somehow, this is still better than using regular browsers. I think that using a VPN and Tor could offer the ultimate level of protection online or as close to it as we’re going to get at this time.


  5. Ben C

    I use Tor. Its a great browser that protects your online security and tends to show you websites trying access your data and same time blocking them
    The downside of it is that, you’ll have to be filling too many annoying recaptchas on some websites..But in all its great and should be one of the browsers you should have in your PC


  6. avatar
    Mikaela Bray

    No, they’re not similar at all. Incognito mode simply means that the browser won’t save your browsing history, cookies, or form data. But your ISP, employers, etc. would still be able to view your browsing behavior if they wanted to.

    Tor is more about encrypting your data and bouncing it around different relays so that it’s very, very difficult for anyone to know what you’re doing — rather, to trace your browsing behavior back to you.

    Hope that helped answer your questions!


  7. Kenneth Unger

    Is this similar to the incognito window offered by most browsers so users can browse privately?


    1. Smart Guy

      No cuz incognite mdoe only hides info from others on your pc, your ISP can see whatever you do either way, but with a vpn, they can’t and if you use tor and a vpn it gives you the best result.

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