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How the Tor Project Can Help You Protect Your Own Online Privacy

Danny Stieben 05-04-2012

tor projectPrivacy has been a constant issue with virtually all major sites that you visit today, especially those that handle personal information on a regular basis. However, while most security efforts are currently directed towards the secure transfer of information from your computer to the site’s servers, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a lot of data being transmitted that can be used to identify you.


If you’re on a site where masking who you are is appropriate, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands. Not only must the transfer of data be secure, but it must also come from a seemingly unknown location.

How Do You Protect Your Identity?

tor project

The easiest way to accomplish this is via the Tor Project, which was highlighted by Chris just a few days ago How to Create a Hidden Service Tor Site to Set Up an Anonymous Website or Server Tor is an anonymous, secure network that allows anyone to access websites with anonymity. People normally use Tor to access normal websites, but they don’t have to. If you want to set up your own... Read More . This unique project is all about masking who you are so that servers cannot identify you, retaining your anonymity on the Internet. This way, you can do whatever you need to do without facing any consequences if you’re identified.

Who Uses The Tor Project?

The Tor Project is surprisingly used by plenty of people, and the project’s website doesn’t hold back in showing what kinds of people use or could possibly benefit from using the Tor Project. Some of the more popular groups of people include hackers, but the project isn’t used only for malicious purposes. Whistleblowers are also a fairly large group of Tor Project users (whether whistleblowers are good or bad is up to you to decide, but you get the point).

The website also lists activists and media as other Tor Project users, using the service to spread the news or information they possess without giving out identifiable information to servers and other spies. Because of how the Tor Project works, you can even access websites that would otherwise be banned in certain countries or otherwise blocked by any organization.


How Does It Work?

the tor project

The Tor service works by routing your web traffic through something called the “onion routing network.” It’s simply a fancy term for saying that any traffic you create will randomly route itself through multiple nodes (“layers”) until it eventually reaches the destination. Therefore, while you may have initiated the traffic, it is securely being routed to many other computers before it finally reaches the site’s servers. The server then sees the incoming traffic but identifies it as coming from the last computer in the route your traffic took. Therefore, you’re hidden.

If you click around on a site or do something else with it, Tor will send your traffic via another randomly generated path, so in the server’s eyes, the traffic seems to be coming from many different computers. Although it’s obvious for experts that, based on this pattern, the user is benefiting from a service like Tor, there is nothing they can do about it. You’re completely hidden.

Explanation aside, I must say that it works quite well. In fact, the leader of the infamous hacking group LulzSec was seemingly impossible to find as he did everything online, including his hacking activities, via the Tor service. He only recently got caught because he slipped up a single time and logged into an IRC chat server while Tor was disabled. The IP address was instantly logged on the chat server, and authorities had no trouble finding him with their new information.


How Do You Use It?

tor project

Using Tor services is quite easy to do. All you need to do is go to their website and download their Tor Browser Bundle. This includes all the necessary applications for you to get going, including a control panel named Vidalia, a patched version of Firefox, and an extension for Firefox to communicate with all the other components. Installation is simply unzipping the downloaded file into a directory or USB drive of your choice, where you can then run the Start program. That’s it!

You can now use Tor with this separate browser for maximum privacy. If you would like Tor to work with your default browser or use Tor with other Internet-enabled programs, you can download just Tor itself that will install to your hard drive, but I only recommend doing this if you have a need for it.

Please note that, without any extra modifications, Tor only works with Firefox. However, it’s easy to change a few settings in your browser in order to use Tor. Just make your browser go through a “proxy” created by Tor, located in “localhost” on port 8118. You can then check if you were successful by visiting this site.



The Tor Project is very effective at keeping your identity online a secret so you can do what you need to. It’s also fairly easy to use, and has received support from many people thanks to its open source nature, and is cross-platform. Many people have been successfully using it, so there is no doubt that you can too.

In your opinion, is Tor one of the best ways to be anonymous online? What other recommended applications exist that aim to protect your privacy? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation

Explore more about: Online Privacy, Tor Network.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 19, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Three years further down the line from the last post, I would definitely say 'Puppy'; and one of our forum members has now produced a whole series of Puppy versions of the Tor browser. So running Tahrpup 6.03 (which I would recommend) from an 8 GB or 16 GB USB drive, with its own swap partition, and completely self-contained.....can't think of a better way to take your very own anonymity package with you anywhere you go.

  2. Rosanne Cleveland-King
    July 5, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Very interesting site, I know I am going to enjoy it.

  3. Vox
    April 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm


    Why would I want to "Torify" a program? What types of programs can I Torify?

    • Danny Stieben
      April 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      People Torify multiple programs to get the same result as mentioned in the article. You just have to question yourself whether Torifying certain programs is really needed. You can Torify any program that lets you change proxy settings.

  4. Z.B. Manfred
    April 6, 2012 at 2:48 am

    If you're really paranoid (as I often am), it's preferable to use a Live CD rather than your regular system (which is probably Windoze) just to be safe from possible physical traces of your activity being left on the hard drive. I tried the Debian derivative TAILS (The Amnesiac Incognito Live System) but found it way too buggy. Best option for something like this would be to roll your own using a customized, easy to use Linux distro like Mint or Ubuntu, converted from a VM or dual-boot environment (ideally a VM). is a well-regarded service that specifically caters to privacy advocates and supporters for all kinds of reasons, ranging from blogging in repressive countries like Syria and China to regular folks' disapproval of being tracked all over the web and bombarded with individualized advertising. You can request an account by filling out one of their forms, and they also offer a VPN service that you can channel through Tor.

    Don't neglect to further enhance your Firefox with other security add-ons besides TorButton, like NoScript, Adblock Plus, Ghostery and Beef Taco (you can find these at the Mozilla add-ons website And you can't underestimate the importance of a more than decent Hosts file beyond that. Good sources are MVPs Hosts (, Peter Lowe's lists ( and Someone Who Cares ( If you're really, REALLY paranoid encrypt the LiveUSB with TrueCrypt.

    But if you're really, really, really, really REALLY paranoid... you can always go "off the grid." Hey, it worked for J.D. Salinger. ;-)

    • E.W
      April 13, 2012 at 2:31 am

      I tried using TAILS and I was not too happy with it since you must have the CD in the drive, also it was very slow loading.

      "Puppylinux" is another option if you don't want to use a harddrive its fast, it will load in your RAM (you don't need much) and you can use TOR with it, it takes some configuring since puppy runs as "root", I have not figured out how to configure it yet, since I have no real use for TOR, and haven't had any time to play. If anyone has tried this please reply and tell me what you think.

      You can customize puppy adding any programs you want, a lot of them can be found on the main puppy forum "Additional Software (PETs, n' stuff)" or in the puppy package manager. Then you can use the remaster tool and making a fresh Puppy ISO that you can share with other people, or you can just create a multi session CD and when you get it the way you like just choose not to save to the CD. You can use a live USB but then your writting to a drive.

      You also can choose your own browser and then use the add-ons as Z.B suggested.

      If anyone is interested go to

      I would like to know if Danny has checked into this?

      • Danny Stieben
        April 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm

        Yes I have, E.W. There's an article about it that I wrote here: //

      • Sonic
        May 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm

        Liberté Linux is like tails but more secure and stable as its based on hardened gentoo. The only unencrypted traffic that leaves the system is the initial request for the network ip. Well worth checking out as a live usb.

    • Danny Stieben
      April 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      Thanks for the tips! I know I personally won't become paranoid, but others might.

  5. Maggie
    April 6, 2012 at 1:57 am

    So which is better; the browser bundle or the TORbutton for Firefox?

    • Elijah Swartz
      April 6, 2012 at 2:04 am

      The browser bundle is basically everything packaged together for you. It's also portable, so you can put it on a USB flash drive and take it with you. I would say to just use the browser bundle for simplicity's sake, although they both work of course.

    • Danny Stieben
      April 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Go with what Elijah says. Both work, but ultimately the bundle is better.

  6. George Hall
    April 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Why should we trust a Tor node? It can be anybody, from russian mob, chinese hackers to fbi.

    • Elijah Swartz
      April 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      TOR is comprised of many encrypted layers. At each node, you can only see what came from that previous node, but not the origin or destination of the data. It gives you anonymity because there is no way to know the origin and destination of data. The nodes used are random and from all over the world. This technology was developed originally the the US Navy and has been improved since it's inception. The Russian mob, Chinese hackers, and the FBI can all host nodes, but since the data is encrypted(looks like a bunch of random nothingness) and each layer only knows the previous node, you are given good anonymity. The only weakness would be the enter/exit nodes. You can keep randomly choosing which entry node you want to use when you start up the software. There can be no proof of a specific individual sending the data, but at the exit nodes, the data can be recovered. Also, only TCP data works, so things that need UDP, won't be encrypted (things like bittorent). Also, since all of the nodes are decentralized, it would be hard to take down. It's a decent system for those who need anonymity. The speeds are a little subpar, but quite tolerable. I have only used enough to write a paper though.

      • scotty bomb
        May 16, 2012 at 3:03 am

        Hey Elijah, is there anyway to protect the exit node? Will adding a program like PeerGuardian along with Tor do the trick?

    • Danny Stieben
      April 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      I think Elijah answered your question. :)

  7. Mike
    April 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Tor is great but it doesn't encrypt the information.

    I just read Tor's wikipedia page and I see many Weaknesses:

    Basic problems:

    "Like all current low latency anonymity networks, Tor cannot and does not attempt to protect against monitoring of traffic at the boundaries of the Tor network, i.e., the traffic entering and exiting the network. While Tor does provide protection against traffic analysis, it cannot prevent traffic confirmation (also called end-to-end correlation).[22][23]'

    "In September 2007, Dan Egerstad, a Swedish security consultant, revealed that he had intercepted usernames and passwords for a large number of email accounts by operating and monitoring Tor exit nodes.[27] As Tor does not, and by design cannot, encrypt the traffic between an exit node and the target server, any exit node is in a position to capture any traffic passing through it which does not use end-to-end encryption such as TLS. While this may or may not inherently violate the anonymity of the source if users mistake Tor's anonymity for end-to-end encryption they may be subject to additional risk of data interception by self-selected third parties.[28] (The operator of any network carrying unencrypted traffic, such as the operator of a wi-fi hotspot or corporate network, has the same ability to intercept traffic as a Tor exit operator. End-to-end encrypted connections should be used if such interception is a concern.) Even without end-to-end encryption, Tor provides confidentiality against these local observers which may be more likely to have interest in the traffic of users on their network than arbitrary Tor exit operators."

    Finaly, i'm not sure Tor can prevent authorities finding anyone using Tor...that's the problem.
    Unless anyone find another way...

    Can you explain how to use and setup Tor and VPN in the same time for Mac & PC ?
    Apparently, VPN over Tor works ..but dont know to set it up.

    • SuperJdynamite
      April 5, 2012 at 8:47 pm

      "Tor is great but it doesn’t encrypt the information."

      That's not an entirely accurate summary of the information you quoted.

      Here's a summary by way of analogy: While you're walking to your saferoom the saferoom offers no protection. When you leave your saferoom the saferoom offers no protection. Somebody camped outside the saferoom will be able to harm you as you're leaving unless you were already prepared to defend yourself outside the confines of the saferoom.

      • Secret
        April 6, 2012 at 12:07 am

        So what do you propose to protect when coming out ?

        Apparently, VPN over Tor works for anonymity ..but dont know to set it up on Mac. Do you know how to or does anyone know how ?

        Someone said in a forum the following:

        "The correct path of your config is: PC (OpenVPN with proxy) -> TOR entry -> TOR exit -> VPN server -> SSH server

        There should be no need to torify anything. Every application should transparently use VPN over TOR (thanks to OpenVPN proxy features). Furthermore, UDP traffic now can go through TOR (it's TCP over UDP, done by OpenVPN)!

        In this way:

        - SSH server sees VPN server IP address

        - VPN server sees TOR exit node IP address

        - VPN server sees SSH encrypted traffic

        - TOR servers see OpenVPN+SSH encrypted traffic

        The packets which finally go out have the SSH server IP address on their header. "

        Can someone explain how to set it up and what apps to use on a mac for this to be done ?? PLEASEEE

        • Secret
          April 6, 2012 at 12:09 am

          I also noted what Dan Egerstad wrote on his Twitter:!/danegerstad

          "VPN over Tor works. Note the difference from using VPN to access Tor!"

    • Danny Stieben
      April 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      While Tor itself won't encrypt from your computer to entry of the Tor network and from exit of the Tor network to the destination, you can use SSL (where available) to do the encryption where Tor doesn't.

      In any case, it seems to work despite criticisms. How else would have LulzSec's leader been able to hide for so long?