VPN apps and the Tor browser are common technologies used to achieve anonymity while online. But why does one need to remain anonymous online? The internet is increasingly becoming popular with each and every passing day. In half a decade period between 2012 and 2017, there has been a growth of approximately 82% in the number of users. This growth which is approximately 1.7 billion people in absolute values implies that every second, there are ten new users. It also implies approximately one million new users daily.
The advancements of the social web and mobile technology are the leading causes of this rapid growth in the use of the internet. Today, individuals, academia, governments, and industries use the internet for various purposes. The internet has significantly changed the way people communicate and do business.
Whereas the rapid growth of the internet use is a positive thing, it has negative implications for the security and privacy of the information that is shared online. With this large number of users, the numbers of malicious individuals who gain unauthorized access to the information shared online and use it to cause harm to the concerned parties.
The increasing prevalence of security and privacy threats increases the need to ensure the safety and security of the information one shares online. Anonymity over the web is achieved through various internet security protocols. The most common ways that people stay anonymous is by either using VPN or using the Tor browser.
What is Tor?
It is free software that enables internet users to remain anonymous while online. It derives its name from an acronym of the name of the original project; “The Onion Router.” While it protects the privacy of users by keeping them anonymous, this software does not prevent an online service that one is accessing from determining that it is being accessed through onion routing.
How Tor Works
The mechanism by which the Tor browser works to provide users with internet security solutions is analogous to traveling through a twisty and hard to follow the route, and then erasing your footprint so that anyone following you can be thrown off. It protects users against internet security issues such as traffic analysis by distributing their transactions over several places on the web such that there is no single point that can link them to their destination. Instead of traveling directly from the source to the destination, data packets on this network are first encrypted into layers before they can travel on a virtual circuit that is made up of successive randomly-selected relays. Each relay decrypts only a layer of this encryption to help it determine the next relay to pass the encrypted information to. The innermost layer of the encryption, usually the original data is decrypted by the final relay which then sends it to the destination without revealing the original IP address.
The following are the advantages of using the Tor browser to achieve anonymity while online.
i. It is free to access;
ii. It is compatible with all major operating systems like Windows, for example, VPN windows 10;
iii. It is easy to set up on a pc after downloading;
iv. It is open source software with minimal risks of malicious backdoors.
Using the Tor browser to achieve anonymity online also has the following disadvantages:
i. Reduces bandwidth speeds compared to other browsers like google chrome and opera;
ii. It doesn’t encrypt traffic;
iii. Allows higher authorities to monitor and track connections;
iv. Uses other unprotected apps that do not guarantee anonymity.
What is VPN?
Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a method of connection that guarantees privacy and protection from ransomware to users. It allows users to hide their location, access websites with geographical restrictions, and torrent without being logged, access streaming media content, and stay safe from untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots.
How VPN Works
To use VPN, a user must first install VPN apps. VPN makers have considered the diversity of devices used to access the net and come up with different VPN types that are compatible with conventional devices. For pc users, you can easily download and install VPN google chrome and opera VPN for pc. Users of smartphones can also easily install compatible VPN on Android.
When users connect to the internet through a VPN, the data they enter gets encrypted even before their internet providers see it. The encrypted data then travels over a safe connection to the VPN server from where it is forwarded to the destination specified by the user. The location is set by the user by adjusting settings on the VPN location changer. At the online destination, the encrypted data appears as originating from the VPN server location. The online destination, therefore, forwards the response to the VPN server from where it is forwarded to the user.
The following are some of the advantages of VPN solutions.
i. Allow for anonymous downloads;
ii. May improve network speed;
iii. Allows access to geo-restricted sites;
iv. Allow for safe access to public networks.
Using VPN, however, has the following disadvantages.
i. Not all VPN can be trusted;
ii. The most reliable ones cost money;
iii. VPN configuration may be unattractively complex.
The choice of which online security tool to go for between VPN and Tor can be complicated. Each has its weaknesses and strengths which make it had to make the decision based on such parameters. While Tor is a free tool for anonymity on the web, it does not encrypt traffic. Based on this using a VPN will be better even if the most reliable ones are not as free as Tor. However, unlike some VPN which not all can be trusted, or is an open source software with limited chances of malicious backdoors. Judging on this, Tor is better than VPN. The choice of the tool is thus more subjective and depends on the needs of a particular user.
How About Both?
The best option is thus to use the two tools together so that they can complement one another. This way, the two online security tools mitigate the drawbacks of using each of them exclusively. The major drawback of the combined use of VPN and Tor is that it combines the speed hit of the two technologies and consequently makes the connection slower though safer. With this arrangement, one has the option of connecting to the VPN through Tor or connecting to Tor through the VPN.