For security or privacy focused individuals, Tor is a popular option. The browser will relay your traffic through a series of nodes made up of other Tor users, meaning that it is nearly impossible for organizations and individuals to trace your digital steps. The anonymity it provides has given it a reputation of freedom from both oppressive governments and the law, meaning that there are quite a few eyes pointed directly at it. While it is indeed a great tool, it isn’t the ultimate solution.
“The Tor Browser Showing The main Tor Project page” by Tor Project under CC 3.0
Here are a few reasons why you should reconsider using Tor:
XKeyscore and Government Surveillance
The more information gets leaked about government spying, the more concerned citizens all over the world become. While there were many documents and programs released to the public, one of the most disturbing pieces of information was about XKeyscore, a surveillance tool that the government used to collect massive amounts of data and metadata on individuals. You should absolutely read up on it to learn more about its reach and effects.
As it relates to Tor, governments (at least the United States) directly look at Tor users, considering them potential threats and in many cases boosting surveillance on them. This is the exact opposite of what any Tor user wants, and while the service will help, it will be problematic for any online activities that aren’t using Tor. Governments also have the ability to create Tor endpoints themselves and thus monitor the traffic coming out of it. It isn’t guaranteed that you will get caught up in this, but you need to prepare for any eventuality.
More oppressive governments take an even tougher approach to Tor users, arresting them for downloading the service. In worst case scenarios, Tor users pay with their lives for being “revolutionary or “terrorist” elements, regardless of their true intentions. This makes Tor an extremely risky gamble for the casual user.
Tor also has some specific problems that you need to be aware of. The endpoints of Tor aren’t necessarily protected, and if you are sending sensitive information, then it could still be collected by hackers looking in on a network on either end, putting your data at risk. Technically data couldn’t be traced back to you, but your name and address could easily be within the info intercepted.
Using Tor also doesn’t guarantee you can use any program. The browser is pretty safe, but rarely are programs, plugins and scripts designed to run on it. Certain scripts or processes might ask for information from your computer, and this information can include sensitive or identifying information. Unless you just looking at basic text pages, you could be at risk.
Alternatives to Tor
If privacy is still a concern for you, then there are options available that can hide your online identity. You can use a proxy server to give yourself a different IP address than you are using now, allowing you to avoid some forms of tracking without bringing as much attention on yourself.
Another option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which is much like a proxy in that it connects your device to an offsite secure server that will mask your IP address. The difference is that the connection is encrypted, allowing you to be safe on public networks. In short, you will have protections that Tor and proxies do not give you. VPNs are easy to find and install and rarely cost more than $10 a month. Websites such as Secure Thoughts have put a lot of time and effort into finding the best VPNs, concluding that ExpressVPN, IPVanish and HideMyAss are all excellent options.
Do you have any experience with Tor? Do you think there are any other important facts not mentioned above? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.