Tor Browser | An IntroductionCategory: darknets
A 3 Minute Read
10 Jan 2014
As surveillance on the internet increases, so does the importance of privacy solutions. Fortunately the Tor network provides a way to gain not only privacy but anonymity. It does this by encrypting your online traffic and routing it through a series of servers. However, configuring programs to use Tor without leaking your real IP address, and without leaving a large fingerprint to identify you, is harder than it sounds. The Tor Browser does this task for you.
What is the Tor Browser
The Tor Browser is a pre-configured, portable version of Firefox that has a few tricks up its sleeve. It is optimized for security and anonymity by using various tweaks in Firefox's settings, as well as by using privacy-enhancing add-ons, such as NoScript and HTTPSEverywhere. Of course you can add whatever add-ons you like to it, but be aware that some add-ons may not play nicely with Tor, and could end up deanonymizing you.
Moreover, the Tor Browser is optimized to not leave a large fingerprint online. An online fingerprint is a unique set of data-points in your browser that websites often scan for in an attempt to identify you, such as screen resolution or time-zone. The idea of the Tor Browser is that if many people use identical versions of it then they will leave a nearly identical fingerprint, increasing anonymity.
But the real benefit of the Tor Browser is that it automatically sends all traffic through the Tor network. What Tor does in a nutshell is encrypt your connection and then send it through a network of computers, before finally going to the website you're trying to visit. All of this is explained in more detail in this post on Tor Vs VPNs, but what it essentially achieves is both privacy and anonymity, as it is extremely difficult for your ISP to view the contents of your traffic, and is also difficult for anyone online to identify you (even the NSA reports having "negligible success" when trying to find Tor users).
The one caveat to Tor is that the last computer that your connection is sent through is able to see your traffic. However, because the Tor Browser includes HTTPSEverywhere this threat is largely mitigated on most websites. Nevertheless, as long as you don't send personal information you will still be fairly anonymous, making this far less of a problem.
Installing the Tor Browser is dead simple. Just go to the Tor Project's website and download it for whatever system you use. The download will be in either a compressed file, or an exe installer. If you use OSX or Linux, just download the compressed file and extract it. Windows users have to run the .exe file to install it. To launch the browser, open the folder where it is installed and click the file to start it (on Windows this is called Start Tor Browser, on Linux it is ./start-tor-browser, and on OSX it is called TorBrowser_en-US).
That's it. Use it whenever you want a higher level of anonymity online. Of course, sending personally identifiable information through Tor will largely remove this anonymity, but if you use Tor intelligently it will contribute more than any other method to obfuscating your online identity.