When it comes to privacy and encryption, the high number of terms and phrases can be confusing, such as VPN and TOR. Therefore, we decided to write a simple article explaining what they are and how are they different.
Both VPN and Tor are ways to hide your online identity and protect you from being traced. There are several reasons why someone would choose to do this. From posting political opinions in a country where it is forbidden to do so, to wanting to reveal facts about an organization or person that could potentially bring some kind of threat (whistleblowing). And much more, like browsing the Dark Web. Let’s look at their definitions and see how they fit into the world of anonymous web usage.
What is TOR?
In 2002, a software was released under the name The Onion Router. It was a reference to the many layers of encryption provided by the service. TOR was originally designed for the US Navy’s top secret communications. The service has evolved to provide anonymity to internet users by rerouting the signal through multiple nodes. It doesn't allow a clear trace back to the user's IP Address.
TOR is highly recognized for its benefits in helping people connect and share views, opinions and facts anonymously. In some situations, it could be dangerous not to use it, such as whistleblowing, anti-political agendas and other human rights situations. In fact, it has the endorsement of several human rights agencies such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Most people associate TOR with the Dark Web, the seedy underbelly of the internet world. They are unaware that the program is perfectly legal and safe to use with other applications.
TOR is run by volunteers, who provide exit nodes. The IP address is constantly bouncing and changing from node to node, rendering it untraceable. It is like a baton runner in a marathon. The baton is passed from runner to runner with no contact between previous or future runners other than those actually passing the baton. In TOR, these parcels of information passing are called circuits. For added security, these circuits are reset randomly every ten minutes. In a process called geo-spoofing, a user can even make it appear he is using the internet from another country. The volunteers themselves, while doing a great service for the TOR community, are running a high risk of being associated with troublesome or illegal activities.
It provides some advantages over a VPN. Because of its ever-changing nature, the network is nearly impossible to shut down, hack, or otherwise attack. It is also a very secure way to remain anonymous. TOR has been known to have some malware attacks, such as Trojans, but it is safer than other browsers. TOR is also free to use and, as we mentioned before, it is run by volunteers.
One notable disadvantage to TOR is that it is very slow due to the nature of its processes. It is also not suited for Peer to Peer file sharing. Some users bypass this by using BitTorrent, but doing this slows down TOR for every other user logged on. TOR is also not the most efficient way to geo-spoof or stream and download geo-restricted content and media services.
What is a VPN?
A Virtual Private Network is another way to securely connect to the internet. It was originally designed for corporations to protect themselves online. But VPNs are now used by internet users to hide their browsing activity and habits. A VPN is used with your normal connection, alongside your ISP. But the data is encrypted, so that the ISP is unaware of your activities. All the ISP is aware of is that you are accessing the internet with a VPN. The VPN's IP address is the one displayed, rather than your own.
Using a VPN
Using a VPN is a safe and efficient way to browse the internet, share torrent and P2P files, and look at confidential files of any sort. A VPN provides faster speeds than TOR, allowing for quicker streaming of geo-restricted content and more effective location spoofing.
A VPN is more accessible to authorities, though, and in fact, many countries are required to keep logs of VPN activity. When choosing a VPN provider, the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies. Free VPN’s are restrictive and more likely to keep logs that can be accessed by police or government. It's very important to choose an untraceable VPN, one that doesn't save your activity.
The Best Choice Depends on Your Needs
When choosing between VPN and TOR, users should take into account exactly why they need these services. A Virtual Private Network is an excellent choice for speed, versatility of use and flexibility. It allows faster streaming of content and file-sharing. But users may be susceptible to having their information given to authorities via logs kept by unreliable providers.
TOR is a slower choice and doesn’t allow the flexibility of a VPN. But it provides an effective anonymity in situations where browsing or posting online can potentially threaten the user. Both have their advantages and drawbacks, and the best choice depends entirely on the intention of each user