Security

Tor and VPN: What Are They and Should You Use Them Together?

Gavin Phillips 10-07-2020

One frequent online privacy question regards the use of the Tor Browser and Tor Network with a VPN (a virtual private network). Both tools protect your privacy but in different ways. Understandably, users wonder about combining the privacy and security properties of each tool.

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So, can you use Tor and a VPN at the same time?

Are Tor and VPNs the Same?

The first thing to consider is the difference between Tor and a VPN. Specifically, Tor and VPNs are not the same.

  • Tor is an anonymous communication network that routes internet traffic through a global network of nodes, protecting your data within the Tor Browser and Tor Network.
  • A VPN encrypts your network connection, tunneling all of your data through the VPN provider’s server. Your internet traffic will appear to come from the IP address of the VPN server, rather than your actual location.

Tor and Tor Browser

So, when you use Tor, you connect to the Tor Network, using the Tor Browser (a modified version of Mozilla Firefox). Any activity inside the Tor Browser uses the Tor Network for protection, with each node your traffic passes through maintaining the network encryption.

The Tor Network does not protect any internet activity that takes place outside of the Tor Browser. So, if you complete a search in your regular browser, you do not have the same multi-layered security and privacy as within the Tor Browser.

Here is a detailed explanation as to how the Tor Network works and protects your data What Is Tor and How Does Onion Routing Protect Privacy? Heard about onion routing but don't get how it keeps your browsing private? Here's how onion routing and the Tor network works. Read More .

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Tor Browser and the Tor Network offer extensive protection within that environment, as well as access to the Dark Web (for better or worse). In that, many people use Tor Browser for specific tasks and to access specific content, rather than rely on their daily internet browser.

VPNs

Whereas, a VPN encrypts your entire internet connection, routing it through the VPN provider servers. The VPN differs from Tor in that all of your internet activity receives protection, rather than just activity within the Tor Browser.

If you don’t use a VPN already, check out the reasons why you should start right now!

You can use a VPN all day, every day, to boost your online privacy and security. However, one misconception is that a VPN provides complete privacy. That isn’t true. If you sign into an online account while using a VPN, the service still knows that it is you signing in. The only difference is that the service will see your internet traffic coming from a different location than usual.

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Furthermore, if you use a free VPN service, there is no guarantee that the provider is not keeping logs of your data, or will pass your details to the authorities.

Should You Use a VPN With Tor Browser?

Now you have read about what Tor and VPNs are, you might begin to see how they fit together. Tor encrypts your traffic inside the Tor Browser. VPNs encrypt your network connection, catching everything else.

The question remains: should you use a VPN with Tor Browser?

The official Tor documentation states that you do not need to use a VPN with Tor to increase your privacy. The Tor Network configuration is secure. Although the threat of malicious exit and entry nodes 6 Ways to Stay Safe From Compromised Tor Exit Nodes Tor is powerful for protecting online privacy, but it isn't perfect. Here's how to stay safe from compromised Tor exit nodes. Read More does exist, it shouldn’t cause you any issues.

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That’s the official line. Using a VPN with Tor does have some effect on your connection, however.

Tor Over VPN

If you connect to your VPN provider before connecting to the Tor Network, the entry node will receive the IP address of the VPN service as the origin of the data, instead of your actual IP address. Your ISP will not see that you are connecting to Tor, which could protect your privacy or even enable you to access the service in some countries.

This method is known as Tor Over VPN. It does have some caveats regarding your VPN provider. If you trust your VPN provider is completely logless 6 Logless VPNs That Take Your Privacy Seriously In an age where every online movement is tracked and logged, a VPN seems a logical choice. We've taken a look at six VPNs that take your anonymity seriously. Read More and resides in a secure jurisdiction, you can use this method.

Otherwise, you’re simply switching trust from your ISP to your VPN provider. If your VPN provider logs your data and works with the authorities, you should stick to using Tor without a VPN.

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Tor Over VPN also provides security against malicious entry nodes, which is another plus point.

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VPN Over Tor

The VPN Over Tor method is slightly different. Using this method, you first open the Tor Browser and connect to the Tor Network. Then, you connect to your VPN provider through the Tor Network (not just turning on your VPN on your desktop).

The prime benefit of the VPN Over Tor method is to access certain sites that do not allow connections from known Tor exit nodes. VPN Over Tor also protects malicious exit nodes, which is another plus.

The VPN Over Tor method is considered more difficult to use as you must configure your VPN for use through Tor. It may provide more anonymity, protecting your traffic as it passes through the exit node and back to the VPN provider’s server, but it also makes Tor even more difficult to use.

Some users suggest that the VPN Over Tor method doesn’t increase your security or privacy enough to warrant using, especially given the time it takes to configure the VPN for use with Tor. Furthermore, if done wrong, it can expose your data.

Tor Bridges

The Tor Project recommends using a bridge relay (bridges, for short) to increase your entry node privacy. A Tor bridge is an unlisted entry node. If you suspect your ISP or otherwise is monitoring attempts to connect to the Tor Network through regular entry nodes, you can use a bridge relay to connect to an unmonitored relay and enter the Tor Network securely.

There is a list of default Tor bridges that anyone can use. However, as these are available to the public, the majority of these are likely monitored.

To find out more about Tor bridges, check out section 5.1 in our unofficial users guide to Tor Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Tor provides truly anonymous and untraceable browsing and messaging, as well as access to the so called “Deep Web”. Tor can’t plausibly be broken by any organization on the planet. Read More , titled “Using Tor in a Restricted Country.” You can also take a look at the Tor: Bridges documentation.

Is It Safe to Use a VPN With Tor?

You can use a VPN with Tor safely, with the Tor Over VPN method. For most people, the additional layer of privacy is more than enough.

As with any VPN security and privacy issues, you must use a trustworthy, logless VPN. If you’re not paying for the service, you’re the product. That rings true for VPN services. Furthermore, many of the best VPN services allow independent auditors to verify their privacy credentials, ensuring they are not keeping logs or injecting adverts into your traffic.

Check out our guide to the best VPN services The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More for a full list of suggestions.

Related topics: Tor Network, VPN.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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