Anyone experienced with the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) will think that the Tor browser is the same as a VPN. This is because these two perform similar but different functions.
A VPN is known to provide privacy and security to your online connections among others while the Tor browser provides anonymity. People who want to protect sensitive data as well as hide their IP addresses often use VPNs. Meanwhile, the Tor browser can block trackers, defend its users against surveillance and offer multi-layered encryption.
Read on if you want to know more about the differences between the Tor browser and VPNs.
Tor Browser is not a VPN
The Tor Browser is not a VPN. VPNs are networks of servers used to protect your privacy by hiding your IP addresses and encrypting your messages. Your VPN provider is responsible for both the control of their software on your laptop and the servers used in their network. To install VPNs on your devices, you first need to look for a trusted VPN provider then subscribe to one of their monthly or annual plans.
Is the Tor browser safe? Yes. In fact, the Tor browser is ‘a network of servers‘ that you anonymously communicate with. Unlike VPNs that have your data in its servers, no organization controls both the servers used by the Tor browser and the server you connect with using your device. Thus, you can be assured that the use of the Tor browser is safe and can protect your data.
How do VPNs work?
VPNs have servers in many countries around the world. So when you use them, it’s like you have them as the intermediary between your computer and the internet. Information from your device passes through your VPN server before reaching the internet.
Also, information sent from an external network to your computer passes through your VPN server. This makes the exchange of data online possible without revealing your location. Traffic will always be seen coming from your VPN server.
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How does the Tor browser work?
Below is a breakdown of what happens when you exchange data through a Tor browser.
- The Tor browser selects 3 Tor servers randomly, after which it builds a pathway between those 3 servers.
- The process begins at the Exit Node, which is the server that connects to the public internet. The Tor browser on your PC encrypts the message, such that only the ‘Exit Node’ can decrypt it.
- The Tor browser repeats the second process for the second server and for the first server called the Guard Node. This makes the message encrypted three times.
- The Tor browser sends the encrypted message to the first server (Guard Node). This removes the first layer of instruction, leaving the remaining two layers for the middle server and the Exit Node. The message has the address of the middle server and knows where to go to remove the next encryption.
- After the second encryption is removed by the middle server, the address to the Exit Node is revealed. When the message finds its way to the Exit Node, the last layer of encryption is removed, hence your original message is revealed.
After this process is carried out, the Exit Node does not know who sent the message or where it came from because the original message was relayed through 3 servers.
How Tor browser provides anonymity
- The Guard Node does not know the IP address of your PC. When it sends a message, it also does not know the message content because the 2 layers of encryption remain.
- The middle server knows a message came from the Guard Node but does not know the message content (because of the last layer of encryption), neither does it know who sent it to the Guard Node.
- The Exit Node knows the message content because it removes the last layer of encryption. However, it only knows the message came from the middle server but does not know the original sender.
Summary of the differences between Tor browser and VPNs
The table below summarizes the differences Tor browser and VPNs.
|Speed||Faster than Tor||Fast|
|P2P file sharing||Possible||Not possible|
|Device compatibility||All devices||Not all devices|
|Access to technical support||Yes||Yes|
|Easy to use and set up||Yes||Yes|
|Online connection security||Yes||No|
The Tor browser and VPNs both offer great benefits that you can take advantage of. If you have the budget to avail both of them, it’s recommended that you install them on your devices to further increase the protection of your online data. If you don’t have a high budget yet, you can try the Tor browser first and see if you’ll be satisfied with its features.