The Tor browser is a web application which permits users to browse standard websites in addition to websites with the .onion domain. These websites are not accessible from standard browsers. Tor also provides layers of security which make it almost impossible to track the IP address or location of a user. It can be downloaded for free, and there are versions for all major operating systems.
- Anonymous web browsing
- Requires a simple and free browser download
- Originally developed by the US Navy
- Supported by a non-profit foundation
- Multiple integration of security features
- Simple download and installation
- Extensions available for other browsers
- Very effective in security
- Can negatively affect computer performance
- Can slow down web browsing
- Security defaults overwhelming to the novice
Tor is a name that conjures up many misconceptions. Some people believe that the service is a key to the nefarious Dark Web. While Tor is indeed used to access Dark Web sites, it is also a useful tool for anyone who cares about their Internet security. Using Tor can practically render someone invisible as they browse the Internet. Tor is an acronym for The Onion Router. Technically, it is not a web browser but a protocol which creates a sort of virtual onion to protect the web surfer. The browser is at the center of the protocol, and many layers must be pulled back in order to reveal the location or IP address of someone using the platform. The protocol was originally developed by programmers at the United States Naval Research Lab. There is now a non-profit foundation which exists to promote the continued development of Tor. Unlike a VPN, the Tor browser does not encrypt web browsing. Instead, it relays or bounces the traffic on its network through so-called nodes. Anyone can volunteer to host a node. When traffic is pinged between the various nodes, the IP address of a user virtually vanishes. With it vanishes the ability to pin down their physical location. The whole system is much more effective in terms of security than using a secure browsing mode on Firefox or Chrome, but the added security comes with a price. Tor will affect system performance in many cases, and web browsing can be very slow. It may also be difficult for some users to access localized sites. Finally, there are many security features that are enabled by default. These features may discourage and frustrate some users. Tor is easy to set up, and some standard browsers are now offering a Tor extension. It is a beneficial piece of software for anyone that questions their online security.