The 2020 Ultimate Guide to The Tor Browser

Updated on: 1 January 2020
Updated on:1 January 2020

There was recently a major upgrade to the TOR browser. They released an additional layer of security and advancements which include better authentication, encryption algorithms, and a sleeker directory system.

What is TOR?

As you have clicked on our site to read this post, you have probably got a basic understanding of what TOR is and what it can do. However, as we are publishing this as the Ultimate Guide, it is important that we cover each and every detail.

TOR is actually an acronym for The Onion Router. This name refers to the multiple layers of encryption that gets utilized in order to safeguard your privacy. The foundations of this browser hide your overall footprint on the web, giving the complete freedom to browse anything, anywhere, anytime.

However, it is important to be clear from the onset about the purpose and function of the TOR. It is not a VPN, nor does it have an inbuilt VPN like many are led to believe. They are completely different technologies altogether, and it is important that you understand each performs different functions.

Not many know this, but it was the US Navy who were responsible for the original development of TOR. They did this with a view of providing elite protection to the US government communication channels. TOR now operates independently as a non-profit organization that works to promote privacy online.

How Tor Works

Ok, so now you understand a little more about what TOR is, we are now going to look at how it works and how you can use it.

It is relatively straightforward to use and install. You just need to download and install the TOR browser. If you use Firefox, IEX or Firefox, then TOR will simply become your browser of choice. Anything you do from within the TOR browser will be secure and private because they bundle up your data into secure packed before it gets transmitted to the network. Any such information such as the size, destination, timing, and source is removed by the TOR browser. This is the type of information people use in order to identify who the sender of the information is.

The next step implemented by the TOR browser is that it encrypts the data before it gets sent through their many servers, being relayed randomly in order to avoid detection. At each relay point, the data is decrypted, and then encrypted again as it exits, it knows where to send it, but it is virtually impossible for anyone to be able to actually see what is contained within those packets of data. This multi-layer approach to encryption ensures the integrity of the company’s promise to provide secure browsing.

Why Do People Use TOR?

There are a whole host of reasons people use the TOR browser. Because it completely conceals a users’ identity through the effective and continual encryption process, it fulfills its promise to conceal a users’ identity.
It provides complete security and anonymity to protect you from falling victim to people and organizations who might want to track your identity. This may include people such as your Internet Service Provider, Advertisers, Website Owners, Government Organizations, or Hackers.

TOR is also referred to as a gateway to the dark or deep web. While this sounds a little gloomy, it is a part of the internet that is formulated from websites which have not been connected to any search engine, for whatever reason that might be. There are lots of reasons why people and organizations choose to do this, not all of them are as sinister as people are led to believe. Websites that are not registered will be typically unable to be accessed by standard web browsers.

Simply put, TOR is not a browser that is designed for unsavory actions on the web. It is tremendously popular with activists, whistleblowers, journalists, researchers, and human rights workers. Another reason why people choose TOR as their web browser of choice is if they reside, work or travel through a country where there are strict censorship laws in place and internet restrictions because it will not only mask a persons’ activity online, it will also enable them to bypass any censorship stipulations that may be placed on their local internet connectivity.

Why Would People Not Choose to Use TOR?

One of the most significant drawbacks of using this browser is the speed and performance, or to fame it another way, the lack of any speed or performance.

However, due to the overall structure of the service, and the many different relays the data needs to go through in order to get to its destination in the most secure way, this is the reason behind the somewhat sluggish speed of delivery. For video or audio content, this issue gets compounded. For this reason, downloading and streaming content can be a real challenge and will very often, give a poor user experience.

However, as with all things in life, when a problem presents, there is almost always a solution. A VPN will help to open up the capacity of the TOR browser and help to deliver a far better speed of service, securely, for those looking to stream, download, or transmit audio and video files.

With all of its undeniable layers of security, TOR does not give you absolute security, and as such, a VPN is always advised.

There are many people who believe that TOR could be vulnerable towards the exit stages. While everything is encrypted in transit, the very final relay, also referred to as the EXIT NODES, are able to read the traffic if the site you are visiting does not use SSL. Even if you use HTTPS, rather than HTTP, this is more protection, but it is not 100% secure.

Another final consideration is that while they may not be able to see what you are sending, government agencies and other could still see that you are using the TOR browser. In some instances, this may raise a red flag and indicate that there are activities occurring that you may not wish the government to see.

How to Use TOR with a VPN

It is possible to use a VPN with TOR in harmony to provide you with an exceptionally stealthy presence online. While the relationship between the two is a little bit complex, it is possible any many people will use the two together.

You can choose to do VPN over TOR, or TOR over VPN. Confused? We will explain the pros and cons of each to help you distinguish which might be best for you. One important question to ask yourself before you go ahead and use the two together is that it can significantly impact upon the performance.

You might find that a VPN alone will give you the protection and security you need online, without having to add in that extra layer of ‘hoops’ for your internet traffic to jump through.

Using VPN over TOR

When you begin the process of using a VPN over TOR, you will first of all need to initiate the set-up process. In order to do this, you will need to adjust the settings within your VPN to allow them to work with the TOR browser.

Once this is done, you will then be able to directly connect with the TOR browser. Doing this will anonymize you before you go online. Once connected to the TOR browser, you are then able to switch on the VPN and hide your IP address completely.

Using a VPN over TOR is the more secure way to use the two together. However, the only caveat to this is that you are exceptionally restricted as to which VPN you can use; at present, there are only two VPNs in the entire marketplace that will work with TOR.

The two VPN options are BolehVPN and AirVPN, and neither of these two VPNs is considered to be the best VPNs to use for streaming, speed, or security.

The most obvious advantage to using this approach is that by using a VPN over TOR, your VPN provider will not be able to detect who you are or track and record your actions online. The only data they will have is the IP address for the exit nodes (the final relay). If you are going to such lengths in order to keep your information secure, it would probably be a good idea to pay for the transaction using Bitcoin or some other form of anonymous digital currency.

The final advantage to setting your VPN and TOR up this way is that you will be able to completely bypass any blocks that may exist on the exit nodes, for instance, censorship, which TOR over VPN is unable to do.
However, if you think that running VPN over TOR is a little too much hassle, you will also be able to run TOR over VPN by running the browser after you have established a connection via your VPN.

Using TOR over VPN

When you use TOR over VPN, you will need to initially connect the VPN in order to hide your identity. Once you have done this, you will then be able to load up your browser and connect it to the net.

The advantage to doing things this way is that you are able to completely hide the fact that you are using a TOR browser from your Internet Service Provider. Additionally, the TOR entry nodes we spoke or earlier will be unable to track your IP address. Getting completely anonymity from these two points is an exceptionally secure way to be online.

While there is no perfect solution, the connection method we are outlining here, this means that your VPN provider will be able to see your actual IP address; if you make sure you choose the right VPN provider that offers solid assurances that they will not log, store, or use your data, this is the best course of action to take.

The only caveat to mention with this particular approach is that you will not be able to prevent any malicious TOR exit nodes from causing harm to your equipment or device.

So, overall, this method is not as robust as using the total end-to-end encryption that you would benefit from by using a VPN through TOR, there are substantially more options available to you when selecting a VPN to use with TOR in this way.

Two of the VPNs we know to work particularly well with TOR, and which are constantly featured within the top three VPNs available today are ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

Technical Instructions – How to Use TOR with a Proxy or VPN

Once you have taken the time to install the TOR browser onto your chosen device, you will be able to locate it within a folder called ‘TOR Browser.’ This will be in the same location you choose as the destination folder when you initiated the download process.

You will see the option to ‘Start TOR Browser,’ click it.

Once you have selected this, you will be presented with the option to directly connect using the TOR Network, or you will be able to configure some proxy settings first.

If you have decided to go for the VPN over TOR option, have chosen to use a proxy service, or you are connected to a network that is censored, limited or monitored in any way whatsoever; then you will to manually configure the set-up of TOR.

Once you are into the TOR browser, you will need to ensure that your connection is working exactly as it should. In order to do this, you can use a simple IP Address Checking service (there are lots of these online, and you do not need to download anything to use it). You are simply checking that they are not seeing your actual IP address which will verify that the TOR browser is set-up correctly and working as it should.

Ok. Now you are in, here are a few tips!

  • Only use HTTPS sites and avoid those who are HTTP.
  • Do NOT use P2P traffic
  • Always ensure you delete cookies
  • Avoid Google as they collect data like a vacuum does dust – use DuckDuckGo instead
  • Avoid using your real email address while using TOR


Personal privacy online has become more important than ever before. As technology has advanced, and more people want to know what you do and where you visit when you are on the internet, the need for a solution that offers complete anonymity has soared.

Add to this the increasing intelligence deployed by cybercriminals and new tactics they deploy in order to steal your personal data; there’s no wonder that so many people are now using services like VPNs, and the demand for the TOR browser has increased.

Whether it be hacking or tracking, some of us just want to be left alone.

Despite the obvious issues with sluggish connection speeds, the TOR browser is a huge step forward in terms of getting the anonymity we need when going online. With that said, it is simply a single piece of a larger puzzle and people who genuinely want to remain untracked and stay off the radar will need to use a VPN in tandem with the TOR browser, in order to benefit fully from the liberal and secure access they seek when going online.

Written by: Elizabeth March

Advanced ITSEC Specialist Based in Cambridge, England, Elizabeth has held notable positions for a range of high-profile vendors and clients in the European IT Security and Communications Sector. As a former IT Trainer, Technical Specialist, and Product Manager; she transitioned into the role of an expert IT Copywriter in 2015. Since then, her works have been published globally, and she continues to help people easily decipher complex technical challenges and make informed decisions about their digital lives.

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