If you’re looking for ways to stay private online, then there’s no doubt that you’ve heard about Tor (The Onion Router) and a VPN (Virtual Private Network). You must already be aware of how significant your privacy and staying anonymous online can be.
Over the past years, online privacy is becoming an increasing concern among folks surfing the internet. The reason being, when connected to the internet, especially when using a public WiFi, chances are you might be under the watch of hackers or even government spies.
Moreover, your visit websites might get your IP address, pages visited, your location, and the information sent and received.
Fortunately, there’re two best technologies to ensure that you’re protected online: Tor and VPN.
Now, how well do you know about Tor and VPN? Can you even mix them?
One thing is for sure, they both offer online protection, but each does its function differently. In case you’re wondering whether you can combine both, we’re here to solve your problem.
How Does Tor and VPNs Compare?
First thing, are Tor and VPNs the same?
At a glance, Tor & VPN are two different things. For instance, a VPN has a plethora of servers that, once you’re connected to a VPN, it encrypts and pass your traffic via one of the servers. Therefore, your traffic will always appear to originate from the VPN server’s IP address and not your actual location.
On the other hand, when you connect to Tor, your data is encrypted and then channeled over a series of networks on the Tor network. It means that your information is protected within the Tor Network and Tor Browser via nodes’ network.
In-depth Analysis of Tor and Tor Browser
Now, you already know the difference between Tor & VPN. Let’s now get deeper!
Basically, when using Tor, you simply connect to Tor Network via the Tor Browser. All the activities you undertake in the Tor Browser will use the protection of Tor Network with every node that the traffic passes, maintaining the encryption.
Each data packet is merely sent via at least three relays, whereby data is encrypted at each relay again together with the IP address of your next server node. Therefore, the destination is kept anonymous to a current node, adding an additional layer of encryption, meaning you’re provided with several layers of encryption – much like an onion with many layers; and hence “TOR,” which means ‘The Onion Router.”
It means that if you attempt a search with a regular browser, you won’t get the multi-layered security as well as privacy, unlike when using the Tor Browser. Therefore, you can use the Tor Browser for several specific tasks and access particular content without leaving tracks.
How a VPN works
The VPN works a different way in that, unlike Tor, it protects all your internet activity and not the action within a Tor Browser.
Therefore, a VPN will provide online security and privacy all the time. However, the service will always recognize your traffic but from a different location.
You’ll also have to be extra careful when using a free VPN because you may not be sure that the provider doesn’t keep logs or won’t get your details to third-parties.
Also, while most of the countries do not ban using VPN, some do. So, it’s recommended that you explore the ‘are VPNs legal’ topic thoroughly. One resource that we can recommend for doing is Privacy Savvy.
How well do Tor and a VPN mix?
Clearly, Tor encrypts all your traffic but only within the Tor Browser, while a VPN encrypts your entire network connection.
So, how well can they mix? Or can you use a VPN with Tor Browser?
First, you won’t be happy with your ISP seeing that you’re using Tor, and you won’t be too confident with your VPN provider that it won’t be viewed or even log your activity.
Therefore, to alleviate such issues, you can use a VPN alongside Tor, and that can only happen via two options; VPN over Tor or Tor over VPN. The primary difference is the one you first connect to.
Tor over VPN
Here, you connect to a VPN first and then use the Tor Browser. Your traffic goes via a VPN server before getting to a Tor entry node. That way, the VPN server sees you’re only connected to Tor and not where it is going.
It will only see you connected to a VPN server on your ISP, meaning it won’t see your connection to the Tor entry node. In this case, you’ll have to trust your VPN more than your ISP.
VPN over Tor
It’s one method that won’t provide the best anonymity that you might be looking for. Here, traffic goes via Tor first, and your ISP can recognize that you’re connected to Tor Network, and the node will be able to see your IP address. Moreover, your VPN will be able to see the direction of your traffic.
However, VPN over Tor alleviates the possibility of Tor exit node seeing the sites you visit. Instead, it catches your connection to the VPN server.
Tor Bridges has you Covered.
To increase the entry node privacy, Tor Project recommends using an unlisted entry node (bridge relay). Whenever you feel that your ISP could monitor your connection to Tor Network via the regular entry nodes, you can opt to use a bridge relay and connect securely.
How Safe is it to Use a VPN with Tor?
Perhaps, your question about whether you can use a VPN and Tor together has been cleverly answered, right?
Now, is it safe?
Interestingly, you use them safely, especially the VPN over Tor option. Although it will negatively impact your internet speed, it’s a good option. All your outgoing traffic will be routed via the VPN and then via the Tor Network.
Therefore, third parties will have it hard to track you. But it’s always a rule of thumb to use a VPN and use Tor only when necessary. However, the defining factor has to be the type of VPN you choose. The VPN should log less and be trustworthy.